Lower and more affordable legal fees have been a hot topic of discussion recently, with many people complaining about the unaffordability of solicitors.
Going to court without a legal representative (known as pro se legal representation) is far from easy or recommended but is becoming the only option for many, and courts are spending increasing amounts of time attempting to help people in these circumstances.
So the question arises, why are solicitors are so expensive? And what are the reasonable and affordable alternatives if you find yourself in the position of needing legal representation, but not being able to afford it?
The reasons why solicitors are expensive:
- Limited competition. Due to licensing requirements, the number of lawyers is somewhat limited, though this did change as law schools expanded significantly a few years back. There was then a problem with the oversupply of lawyers however and many law graduates found themselves lacking jobs during the recession, so numbers of practising lawyers decreased and competition for places at law schools again increased. Inversely, the fees qualified lawyers could afford to charge as their numbers were restricted, rose, pricing many ordinary would-be clients out of the market altogether.
- High law school costs. Typically, tuition, board, and living costs for law students are very high. The fees for Law School alone can set you back £9,250 a year and it takes many years of training to become a lawyer and get accepted to the Bar. And things don’t end at passing the Bar exam; a lawyer must invest in keeping updated.
- The legal work’s value. Usually, legal representatives are essential members of corporations, businesses, governments and nonprofit organisations, and individuals rely on the work that lawyers do during some of the most important times of their lives too. They are highly qualified professionals whose work, for the most part, cannot be done by anyone less qualified. Since there is so much at stake, people are often more than willing to pay for good representation.
- Most of the work done by lawyers consumes lots of time: It is imperative for solicitors to take time on clients’ cases in order to do a good job for them. Too much is usually at stake for it to be a rush-job. Lawyers must learn their clients’ goals and situations and the working out individualised plans which will assist their clients in obtaining those goals.. Dependent on the goals and circumstances of the client, achieving results could require huge amounts of time. Litigations swallow huge time chunks with court appearances, discovery requests as well as depositions.
- Law firms can be inefficient. Because of the limited nature of the competition, there is often little incentive for lawyers to develop more efficient, cost-saving systems. Legal services delivery could be updated with more investment in state of the art computing systems.
What are the solutions?
For sure, it would very much help if solicitors reduced their fees, but unsurprisingly, most are not keen to see this happen. Therefore here are some options that could make a possible dent in legal services’ costs for those who cannot afford them.
- Will Writing Templates. When it comes to writing a will these days, there are more options available than ever before. Online will writing services and will writing templates have meant that a service which was once only provided by seeing a solicitor in person at high cost, is now available at low cost or even free online.
- Pro Bono. Some law firms and law students are prepared to take on a small number of cases ‘pro bono publico’, which is the Latin phrase for professional work undertaken voluntarily, free of charge and in the public good. If you can find a law firm, or group of law students at university who are prepared to use their specific skills to help you win your case, then you have a chance of seeing your case given all the professional attention and legal understanding required to win a case, with no personal cost, which is obviously a fantastic result. However, most pro bono cases are taken on because they are specific types of case. Typically, they are cases where winning would provide an exceptionally important contribution to society, either by helping vulnerable people – families on low incomes for example, or those at risk of being exploited by a much richer or more powerful groups – or by helping charities or international communities whose legal needs would otherwise be left unmet.
- No Win, No Fee Agreements. Also known as Conditional Fee Agreements, these usually only apply to cases where compensation is being sought but they can offer a great solution to those who wish to pursue legal action but cannot afford legal costs. Under a No Win, No Fee agreement, you only pay your lawyer if your case is won, and only then a limited proportion of the damages awarded to you. In the instance that you lose your case, you are typically not liable to pay anything under these kind of agreements.
- Limited representation. Some solicitors may be prepared to help clients with paper preparations without going to court to represent them. This could lead to a significant reduction in costs, as court costs are often the most expensive part of legal fee bills, but give you the legal knowledge and understanding you might struggle to get on your own. It is a good compromise if you don’t feel confident doing all the legal work yourself, but cannot afford legal representation in court.
- Online legal services. Nowadays many firms offer legal services purely online. This has lead to lower cost services which can be the answer to those who need professional legal assistance but are on a low budget.
- Sliding scales. Other law firms are now experimenting with various charging structures dependent on the income of the clients. Some do these via mentoring and offering office spaces to new lawyers that provide services to clients who have lower incomes. This, in turn, provides a two-way benefit for the new solicitors and the clients. The clients get less costly legal representations while the solicitors get training experience.
The costs of legal fees are still prohibitively high for many people, however there are options available for those who wish to make use of the professional skills of lawyers but cannot afford vast sums of money in costs. Hopefully in the future, more services tailored to those on low budgets will become more available, making the law more accessible for all.