A recent report from the Legal Ombudsman of England and Wales details worryingly high levels of client dissatisfaction in the area of family law. Although this report relates to England and Wales, solicitors in Scotland should take note of the concerns raised and ensure that they are dealing with their clients in a fair and transparent way.
The report reveals that 18% of all complaints received by the Ombudsman related to family law and of those over half related specifically to divorce. The highest proportion of complaints relating to divorce was in connection with costs incurred by the client (27% of complaints) although poor communication by solicitors to clients regarding fees for on-going disputes was also an issue.
It is Gibson Kerr’s view that all clients should be given full information about the charging rate and structure of the firm when they engage a solicitor. It is often difficult to estimate fees in divorce and other family cases because fees are normally charged on an hourly rate and it therefore just depends on how much work is required to finish the case. At the outset of a case it is often impossible for the solicitor to predict how long it will take and how much work will be involved.
Fiona Rasmusen, Head of Family Law at Gibson Kerr, said:”In my practice I try to invoice clients regularly, ideally monthly, so that they can keep track of what they are spending and they can see how the charges are building up. This means that they shouldn’t be hit by a huge and unexpected bill at the end of the day. I also send a record of work to clients with every invoice, which tells them exactly how the bill has been calculated. I am also quite happy to discuss monthly payments with clients if they are unable to meet invoices in full all at once.
“Legal costs can be extremely high, and it is important for solicitors to remember that they are acting for clients who are often in a very anxious state anyway because of the litigation itself. However, I believe that with good communication and regular billing, solicitors can keep to a minimum this kind of problem arising for their clients.”