So the media today would have us believe that divorce lawyers overcharge, based on a report issued by the Legal Ombudsman.
Not all the comments made in the report are being repeated in the media. Whilst it transpires that complaints to the Legal Ombudsman are higher for divorce than any other area of law, the report acknowledges that “divorce can be a deeply emotional event” and that “strong emotions can naturally colour and shape the customer’s approach to their legal service.” Indeed it is stated that “Often," and I stress that word “often,” “lawyers are able to guide customers sensitively through the emotional and practical minefield that is the divorce process.” Conversely it states “there are some occasions where the quality of service falls short.”
The main reason for complaint would appear to relate to costs. All solicitors must give their clients an estimate of likely costs when they are first consulted, but this is not normally a fixed quote. In circumstances where the divorce process, particularly when coupled with issues concerning children, money or property can become very complex (not least because it involves two people often with very different views as to what the outcome must be) the Ombudsman stresses that estimates need to be “hedged around with caveats” and that customers must be “regularly updated.”
The report points out those costs can spiral especially where cases are prolonged and bitterly disputed. “Good lawyers, the majority of those with whom we deal,” it is acknowledged, “manage …with admirable deftness” and where the lawyers “has clearly done everything possible to dissuade the customer from pursuing an unachievable objective or unreasonable course of action…the customer has to take responsibility for the outcome.”
Indeed the report concludes that “As hard as it must be to keep emotions in check, the lessons from this report all point towards the necessity for divorcing couples to try.” A failure to do so can, according to the findings, “cause a difference of between £10,000 and £50,000 worth of legal fees”. These are altogether different levels of costs than the £1300, quoted by the media from the report, of average costs for a straight forward divorce.
Ultimately anyone seeking a divorce is obviously recommended to use their solicitor for the legal and not the emotional aspects of the matter; keep their emotions in check; instruct a lawyer who has been recommended to them or someone whose credentials they have checked; ensure they understand how and what they will be charged and keep tabs on the amount they spend.