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Our legal fees policy and options

The problem with legal fees in Ireland

Legal fees are probably the most important consideration for anyone seeking to instruct a lawyer. This is especially true in Ireland, one of the most expensive countries in Europe when it comes to legal fees. Part of the problem is transparency, the fact that clients (and indeed their lawyers) are unable to predict with any degree of certainty the amount of work likely to be involved in a case. The result is that the client is presented with a final bill at the conclusion of the work and is often left scratching his/her head as to where those figures came from. This was remedied to some degree by section 150 of the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 which requires lawyers to provide clients with a fee estimate as early and as accurately as possible. This estimate - known as a "section 150 letter" - must be more detailed than the "section 68" letters which solicitors used to have to send to clients under the previous legislation.

Of course, increased transparency does not address the problem of high fees. High fees arise partly because most Irish lawyers charge fees on an hourly basis. The average hourly rate for a partner in a medium-sized Dublin law firm is €400 per hour. The average rate for an associate solicitor (one step below partner level) is €300. Barrister fees are slightly lower, with the average for Junior Counsel being in the region of €200 per hour (although this can vary wildly depending on levels of experience and expertise). This is not a criticism of the legal profession in Ireland - legal fees are, after all, dictated by the market in the same way as fees in any other industry. Moreover, solicitors have significant overheads they need to cover before they start turning a profit. Among them is the rocketing cost of professional indemnity insurance and rent.

Nevertheless, legal fees remain the greatest deterrent for people seeking to access justice - we have come across countless examples of people abandoning strong cases out of fear of having to spend their life savings on legal bills.

Our fixed-fee solution

Our solution is simple. We let the client know exactly how much we are going to charge before they are under any obligation to pay a penny. Better still, we do not charge on an hourly rate basis. Instead, we prefer to charge fees on a "fixed-fee" basis. That means no surprises and no hidden costs. Not only that, but the fixed-fee invariably works out to be significantly lower than if the same work had been carried out on an hourly fee basis by the professional conducting the work (our professionals are Ireland's leading barristers with at least 10 years experience). The savings range from 40% to 70%!

The following is a real-life example of fees charged for recent advisory work carried out by our Counsel for a client.

Example 1 - FIxed fees

The client was a minority shareholder in a company and sought Counsel's advice about her rights against the company and its majority shareholders. After gathering some preliminary information from the client, Counsel concluded that the work was likely to take between 8-12 hours. Charged at his hourly rate of €250, this would have come to between €2,000 - €3,000 plus VAT. Applying our fixed-fee policy, he charged a fixed-fee of €1,200 plus VAT, which the client was happy to accept. The work ultimately took 14 hours to complete. Had the barrister been charging his standard hourly rate, this would have come to €3,500 plus VAT. Therefore, the client saved €2,300 plus VAT by availing of our fixed-fee service over an hourly rate service!

Advantages of our fixed fee policy

The advantages of this policy are clear. They include the following:

How the fixed fees are calculated

Our barristers calculate the fixed fee based on a number of factors including the complexity of the work and the time it is likely to take to complete. While time is a relevant factor, the fee is not calculated on a standard hourly basis. Instead, we have established discounting guidelines with our barristers to ensure clients receive the best value without compromising on quality. These discounted rates apply only to work received by our barristers through Corporate Legal and not through their own practice.

Retainer fees

The retainer model is an extension of our fixed-fee model. It was built with the objective of achieving transparency, predictability and affordability for clients.

While the fixed fee model involves charging a single fee for a single piece of work (such as legal advice or drafting a contract), the retainer model is intended for clients who require ongoing legal services but do not wish to - or cannot afford to - hire an in-house lawyer. In this situation, we agree with the client to provide legal services over a period of time (usually three months, which can be extended) for a monthly fee. The agreement is tailored to the specific requirements of the client. These specific requirements will determine the amount of the monthly fee, the type of work to be carried out and the number of hours spent on that work each month. This is enormously useful for clients who require a legal service which is both predictable and flexible at the same time. The service is heavily discounted when compared with standard hourly services, resulting in significant savings for clients.

Please note that retainer arrangements are subject to availability. Click here to learn more about these arrangements.

The following is a real-life example from one of our clients

Example 2 - Retainer fee arrangements

A start-up Irish company contacted us requiring legal advice about the formalities of setting up their company. The directors sought advice about their duties and about the content of their company's constitution, as well as a shareholders' agreement. They required various contracts to be drafted involving intellectual property rights, as well as licence agreements with their individual customers. All of this involved significant amounts of work over a period of at least three months.

They had already approached solicitor firms in Dublin but found that their hourly rates were too high, and it would be impossible to predict how many hours would be involved. Moreover, there was not enough work to justify hiring an in-house solicitor. We referred the matter to one of our barristers who agreed to accept the work on a retainer basis. He agreed to charge a monthly fee of €2,000 plus VAT over a three month period to complete the work.

The client was delighted with the fee arrangement and the quality of work, once completed. They decided to extend the agreement beyond three months at a reduced rate of €950 per month so that they could refer future legal queries to the same barrister and avoid hiring an in-house lawyer or paying expensive hourly rates.

Litigation fees

Fixed legal fees and retainer arrangements work well in most cases involving advisory work and drafting or reviewing documents. However, we also represent clients in mediation and commercial litigation cases where such arrangements are less effective. Where possible, we will continue to provide accurate quotes and will never charge fees on an hourly basis. In fact, we are even able to offer some common court applications on a fixed-fee basis. In more complex situations - especially where there is another party involved, making it impossible to predict which path proceedings will take - we will make sure you know exactly where you stand in terms of potential exposure to legal fees and costs. We know that clients are concerned about fees and we will make sure to appraise you of them instead of waiting for you to ask us about them. Please note that, when it comes to litigation, you will need to instruct a solicitor in additon to one of our barristers. The solicitors will charge their own fees and we have no control over those.

Here is an example of why litigation fees can be hard to predict.

Example 3 - Litigation fees

A company director recently approached us about a contractual dispute involving a substantial debt owed to his company by a company based in New York. We referred him to one of our barristers who furnished a legal opinion to the effect that the client had an excellent case. We then had a lengthy conversation about potential fees and costs.

We informed the client that, since the debtor was unwilling to pay the debt, it would be necessary to issue legal proceedings. The amount of legal fees would be influenced by the path those proceedings took - if we reached a quick settlement with the debtor then the fees would be relatively low and we could even ask the debtor to pay them. If the proceedings went to hearing then this would be more expensive but those costs could ultimately be recovered from the debtor if the proceedings were successful. However, if the proceedings were unsuccessful then the client could be required to pay some of the debtor's costs in addition to his own. The client decided to issue proceedings and we ended up resolving the matter at mediation where, in addition to settling the debt, the debtor agreed to pay our client's legal fees.

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