|Survey reveals huge differences in fees charged by solicitors|
|VAST DIFFERENCES in the fees charged by solicitors for the same basic services have been identified by the National Consumer Agency.|
There was a difference of 3,250 between the highest and lowest price for a typical conveyance of a house; a difference of 5,200 between the highest and lowest cost of taking out a grant of probate and a difference of 250 between the highest and lowest cost of making a will, excluding a small number of solicitors who did not charge.
The National Consumer Agency has called for greater transparency from solicitors about their fees and has asked the Minister for Justice to make it a requirement for all professionals to publish fees for standard services.
The consumer agency recommends that consumers shop around, outlining their requirements and asking for a quote from a number of solicitors before deciding on whom to retain. Consumers should ensure that the quote includes additional expenses and VAT, it says.
The agency contacted 329 solicitors with a questionnaire containing details of three straightforward scenarios. Only 65, or 20 per cent, responded, despite repeated calls significantly fewer than previous studies conducted by the consumer agency.
The first scenario was the sale to a single first-time buyer with loan approval of a second-hand, semi-detached house in a housing estate, where the title was registered with the Land Registry.
The cost of conveyancing such a house ranged from 750 to 4,000, with the highest prices in the Connacht-Ulster area.
The second scenario was where a widow sought to make a will. She owned her house and had 20,000 in savings, had no life insurance and received a State pension. She had two adult children and wanted the estate split between them.
Two solicitors said they did not charge for this service, a further three said they would draft a will without charge for existing customers or asked for a small donation to a charity, while costs varied among the remainder of between 50 and 300.
The third example was where the two children in this family sought a grant of probate following the death of their mother.
They had the will in their possession and the house was to be transferred to their joint names. They were joint executors of the will.
The taking out of a grant of probate (with which the Courts Service will help executors without the involvement of a lawyer) cost between 950 and 6,150, a difference of 5,200.
Calling for greater transparency, chief executive of the consumer agency Ann Fitzgerald said that only one solicitor out of the 65 indicated that prices were displayed on the premises. None of the 36 who had websites included fee information online.
While noting that price is only one factor when choosing a solicitor, our advice to consumers requiring legal services is to make a list of their requirements and request quotes based on this list, via telephone or email, from a number of solicitors in their area, she said.
While improvements in transparency would be introduced via the Legal Services Regulation Bill, this would only arise after a client had issued instructions, she added.
Ms Fitzgerald called on the legal profession to make it easier for consumers to get quote information for routine services before retaining a solicitor.
She has written to the Minister for Justice and the Law Society to work with them towards this end.
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