Hourly billing leaves family law clients out in the cold, research finds


Family law services: more than a quarter paid more than £30,000 for their divorce

More than half of those going through a divorce were priced out of the legal services they would have bought and felt they needed, new research has found, with nine out of ten people told by solicitors to take or leave pricing on an hourly rate.

Meanwhile, a third of those surveyed said they would have bought legal help for a fixed fee if it had been offered, and almost as many said the cost of legal advice put them off using a lawyer altogether.

The findings strongly suggest there is an appetite for innovative pricing in family law among consumers, including fixed fees and the ‘unbundling’ of services. Legal Futures reported on two examples of unbundling in family law last week here and here.

The online survey was carried out by well-known management consultant Kim Tasso, in conjunction with two websites aimed at single mothers and single fathers respectively. More than two-thirds of respondents were male and half had an average gross household income of between £25,000 and £100,000. More than three-quarters used a solicitor and 35% used a mediator.

The cost of legal advice stopped 29% from using a lawyer and 35% said it reduced the amount of legal advice they bought. Over a quarter paid more than £30,000 for their divorce and the same number between £10,000 and £30,000.

Just 7% were offered legal advice on a fixed fee. A third said being offered this would have changed whether they used a solicitor.

Satisfaction levels with the advice they received were low – although, of course, in this most emotional of areas it is possible the outcome of their case influenced this view. A quarter said they were ‘totally dissatisfied’ with the advice received and another 31% were dissatisfied. Only 6% were ‘highly satisfied’.

Just under 60% believed the cost of legal advice “prevented them from achieving the best result for them and their children”.

The findings are largely consistent with a recent report issued by the Legal Ombudsman into complaints around family law and the particular problem of fees.

Ms Tasso said: “Solicitors must do more to communicate about fees and alternative resolution methods and to provide fixed-fee services… More innovative approaches to packaging and pricing legal services and giving clients a choice and certainty are needed.”

She added: “Many professional advisers do not appear to understand the range of skills (eg, analysis, cost accounting, buyer psychology, economics, project management etc) that are required for effective pricing strategies and service development.”

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    Readers Comments

  • Absolutely correct. A small number of family law firms/teams have realised that the loss of legal aid is not necessarily a bad thing.

    Those that we have worked with will actually prosper from the changes through much more intelligent, innovative and flexible pricing and payment strategies.

    Change always brings winners and losers.

  • Matthew Briggs says:

    In most circumstances it is completely anti-customer to charge by the hour. Very few other sectors charge this way, so why do solicitors feel it is acceptable? Times are changing…get on board or fall by the wayside.


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