Solicitors fees can vary by up to 500% for the same service, according to the latest price survey from the National Consumer Agency.

Accessing information on price when it comes to solicitors’ fees is difficult

Consumer expert Tina Leonard has the details for Today with Pat Kenny.

Choosing a solicitor

Price is never the only factor in choosing a service and when choosing a solicitor it’s no different. The range of factors you may take into account include the expertise of a solicitor in a particular area, experience, previous experience of hiring the solicitor and the level of service provided. Some people hire solicitors because of their proximity or previous work carried out for the family.

But knowing the price of the service is essential as the basic information you need to help you decide who to hire. You can’t make a fully informed decision without knowing the price, so prices should be accessible, transparent and easy to understand.

The price survey

The National Consumer Agency (NCA) contacted 329 solicitors across the country in writing seeking information on prices for three basic scenarios: conveyancing; drafting a will and granting of probate.

They reported significant difficulty in getting fee information from solicitors for these routine services; the letter and questionnaire was followed up with a phone call; the deadline for responses had to be extended; second follow-up calls were made.

Still, the response rate was just 20% (65), which is very low. 10% refused to participate and 70% did not respond to emails and phone messages. To put the response rate in context the response rate for their survey of opticians, (October 2011), was 84% and for their childcare price survey (February 2011) the response rate was 58%.

Price differences

1. Conveyance

The cost was sought for a conveyance transaction for a semi-detached three bed house in a housing estate, with the title registered with Land Registry for a single first time purchaser with loan approval who will live in the house; a typical and straightforward scenario.

Dublin: Min €1,000 – Max €2,000

Leinster (rest): Min €750 – Max €1,750

Munster: Min €900 - €2,000

Conn / Ulster: Min €850 – Max €4,000

So the national average was €1,301 and there was a difference of 433% between the cheapest (€750) and the dearest (€4,000).

Extras: But it’s not even as simple as that. Bear in mind that even if you are quoted a fee, for this job there will also be extra costs and also VAT has to be added.

Extra costs can include:

Fee for transfers (approx €375)

Registrations affecting registered land (approx €125)

Other services such as title plan (€25)

Some charge for land registry property searches (€25 - €170)

Commissioner of Oaths fee €10 - €50)

Postage, stationery, couriers etc (€20 to €150).

In some cases a solicitor may charge a flat fee to include all costs, or use an hourly fee structure, so when seeking and comparing prices you have to be sure to ask what all the costs will be and ask how the cost is calculated.

Wills

The cost was sought for making a will for a widower with two adult children, who will be equal beneficiaries. His home is fully owned and he has €20,000 in savings with no life insurance and received the State pension.

Dublin: Min €75 Max €300

Leinster (rest) Min €50 Max €150

Munster: Min €50 Max €250

Conn / Ulster: Min €50 Max €300

So the national average was €199 and there was a difference of €500% between the cheapest (€50) and dearest €300).

There should be no additional outlays for this job. It is interesting to know that in the survey two solicitors said there would be no charge for drafting a will and in three cases they said there would be no charge for existing customers or if the customer wanted a donation could be made to charity instead.

Probate

The cost was sought for taking out a Grant of Probate (a High Court document to the effect that the Will has been proved and registered in court and administration granted to the Executor).

The scenario presented was for obtaining a Grant of Probate following the death of a widower in straightforward circumstances (similar profile to Will scenario above).

Dublin: Min €1,720 Max €4,000

Leinster (rest): Min €1,500 Max €6,150

Munster: Min €950 Max €5,000

Conn / Ulster: Min €1,200 Max €6,000

So the national average cost was €2,767 and there was a 547% difference between the cheapest (€950) and the dearest (€6,150).

Also in a grant of probate situation there will be extra costs to take into account: approx €183 for probate court fee, also fees for transfer of property to executors of the will and miscellaneous costs for postage, photocopying etc.

What we can learn from this?

This NCA survey has shown us the incredible price differences in the cost of delivering these straightforward legal services and consequently the importance of getting various quotes to make sure that you are getting the best price.

But the question remains whether you will even be able to access the prices as this survey also showed that it was extremely difficult to get quotes.

The question of whether prices were displayed was also asked in this survey and only one solicitor responded that prices were displayed in premises and in no instances were prices indicated on websites (out of 36 websites). Yet there is no reason why prices shouldn’t be displayed in premises or on websites.

New laws require price transparency

In the new Legal Services Regulatory Bill one provision includes improvements in transparency of prices.

Even so more can be done to ensure consumers can access prices.

Solicitors should provide detailed quotations in a standard format prior to engagement and in the view of the National Consumer Agency there should be a regulatory requirement for all legal professionals to publish fees for their basic or standard services.

(Currently solicitors issue what’s called a Section 68 letter, which gives detail, hourly rates or an overall price for the service, but what you end up paying may still be different and in any case, it would be more transparent to know price ranges up front).

Traditionally there has been resistance in various service professions to display prices due to differences in services being carried out but, for example, the Dental Council was able to bring in a Code of Practice last year requiring their members to display prices, so it is possible.

Choosing a solicitor: what to do

  • There is an enormous variation in fees charged for these straightforward jobs, so get a few quotes as going by this survey the benefits should be considerable.
     
  • Make a full list of your requirements and send it to several solicitors to get quotes.
     
  • Make sure you check whether the quote you get is overall costs and ask what extras may apply and how they are calculated.
     
  • Agree the total fee in advance where possible and discuss how any extras will be calculated should additional complications requiring extra work arise.
     
  • Don’t be afraid to haggle on costs.