Solicitors cost 50% more in London

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The Independent Online
LONDON solicitors typically charge 50 per cent more than their counterparts outside the capital, according to a survey published last week.

A private-client partner in London charges, on average, pounds 165 per hour as a basic rate. The average in the Midlands is pounds 100 an hour, falling to pounds 90 an hour in Wales, the North and East Anglia.

But practices vary considerably between different law firms. Chambers & Partners, the recruitment consultancy, found in its survey of fees London partners who charged as little as pounds 80 an hour, while the top billers chalked up pounds 255 an hour for private-client work.

Assistant solicitors come cheaper, of course - showing average charge-out rates of pounds 105 in London and about pounds 70 elsewhere.

The good news for clients is that fees have more or less stood still since last year. But the bad news is that the quoted fees are often just the starting point.

When handling litigation matters, solicitors will frequently add a mark-up of 50 per cent to reflect the extra 'care and attention' that, they believe, the pressurised, time- sensitive nature of this kind of work demands.

Sometimes they will double their fees. 'The means of calculation will also depend on the size of the firm and its overheads,' said Neil Keegan, an administrator with solicitors Hamlin Slowe.

'The overheads and salaries are going to be far higher. You're talking of three times as much for the big firms.' Many firms will also charge a mark- up on non-litigious matters such as probate. And they may set their fees by the size of the estate rather than by the number of hours spent on the work.

In the last couple of years, however, clients have begun to get the upper hand in negotiating fees.

Alsop Wilkinson, the City firm, said it very rarely introduced a mark-up. And at the end of each private-client transaction, it reviews and perhaps renegotiates the bill with the client.

In days gone by, firms would often charge a mark-up on property-related transactions. But with the decline in the housing market, some firms are charging under cost just to keep in business.

House-buyers and sellers can easily get a fixed fee quote for conveyancing. Typical rates range from about pounds 100 in the North to about pounds 250 in the South-east.

Many solicitors and barristers are themselves now suffering financial hardship.

Clients can often demand fixed-fee quotes up front. They can negotiate more attractive rates and, if they disagree with the final bill, they can demand a thorough explanation from the firm or a review by the Law Society.

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