Master of the Rolls to tell lawyers: you are worth big fees

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The Independent Online

One of the country's most senior judges will tell an audience of lawyers today they are deservedly "expensive" because they provide a "high-calibre" service to the public.

One of the country's most senior judges will tell an audience of lawyers today they are deservedly "expensive" because they provide a "high-calibre" service to the public.

Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the Master of the Rolls, will say there is now little doubt solicitors and barristers are costly but, like all professionals who spend years being trained to a high standard, they are worth it. His comments will be welcomed by the legal profession, whose members are used to being told they are fat cats who charge excessive fees.

Months ago, Lord Phillips described the earnings of some solicitors and barristers as "extravagantly high" and urged the public to use "expensive lawyers" only as a last resort. Lord Phillips, the head of civil justice in England and Wales, and the former chairman of the BSE inquiry, told The Independent: "Lawyers' fees have steadily but incrementally increased and it's very difficult to know what to do about it. I believe the amounts some are earning, both in the solicitors' profession and at the Bar, are extravagantly high."

The highest-paid solicitors in the top City law firms now earn £1m a year and a select group of commercial barristers can command annual fees of up to £1.5m. Today Lord Phillips will warn solicitors to ensure their costs are "proportionate" to their work. He is concerned that law firms don't employ small armies of lawyers to run simple cases.

The Master of the Rolls will acknowledge that market forces drive up costs, and litigation is not always followed, with the aim of keeping down costs. The cost of interim hearings, which the judge calls "interlocutory skirmishing", being charged to the losing client deters lawyers who try to string out cases.

Lord Phillips will urge solicitors, at a conference in Birmingham organised by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, to concentrate more on the needs of the victim of a personal injury claim. The British adversarial system, he says, adds to the psychological stress already felt by an injured client seeking compensation in court.

More should be done to help victims of personal injury to have "rehabilitation" while they are pursuing their claims for damages rather than waiting until a final verdict has been delivered. He believes this will not only help the victim to return to work but reduce costs for insurance companies that foot the bill in most personal injury claims.