Money

Compare your lawyer as firms told to publish clear prices online

Comparing prices for legal services will become easier next week, thanks to the introduction of new rules by the solicitors’ regulator.

The regulations will force solicitors to display prices prominently for services such as conveyancing, probate and motoring offences on their websites. Firms will also have to provide information about the experience of their staff.

The changes could make legal services cheaper, although experts warned against sacrificing quality for a low price or taking the online illustration as a definitive quote.

As many as nine in 10 people in need of legal services do not approach lawyers as they think it will be more expensive than it is, according to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

A spokesman said: “Our research suggests that people think law firms’ prices are up to 20pc higher than is really the case, so even if prices stay the same this suggests that publishing prices may lead to many people realising they can afford professional legal support.”

Max Winthrop, a specialist in employment disputes at Short, Richardson & Forth, welcomed the rules, but said the final price would still need to be determined by the individual circumstances.

In employment cases, he said, firms will display the fee for a one-day tribunal but, if a case involves discrimination, for example, it could be much longer and more expensive.

Regulations already require solicitors to give an idea of what their eventual costs could be, taking into account any complexities, but the online price will not be able to reflect any personal circumstances.

Ian Bond, a probate specialist at Talbots Law, also warned of complexities. The given price for will-writing and probate could increase if a lot of time passes before the estate is administered.

Mr Winthrop also noted that a specialist on a higher hourly fee could prove cheaper in practice. “An hourly rate is only one part of the story,” he said. “If I charge £250 an hour but, as a specialist, take only 30 minutes to do something, that will be cheaper than a generalist who charges £170 an hour but takes three hours to do it.”

The SRA is also producing a new “badge” that will clearly show whether a firm is regulated.

Christina Blacklaws, president of the Law Society, the trade body, pointed out that cases could become more complex as they progressed and consumers would need to make decisions based on a number of considerations.

“Price is, of course, important, but so are the range and quality of services and the client protections offered by the provider,” she said.

The rules come into force today.

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