03 December 2011, by Taylor King Family Law Solicitors
The Daily Telegraph has recently reported that, among others, Madonna and Sir Paul McCartney have been charged hundreds of thousands of pounds in addition to the time recorded on the files by Baroness Shackleton – Britains highest profile divorce lawyer; a practice known as “marking up”.
It is worth noting that ‘mark-ups’ are not prohibited. Solicitors have always been able to apply them to invoices to reflect things such as the nature and complexity of the work, knowledge required, the value of the transaction or where there are tight deadlines. However, in all these cases the solicitor must be able to justify the addition of these costs to the client who ultimately decides whether or not to pay the account.
Baroness Shackleton admitted being “slack with time sheets” and said she added lump sums to her clients’ bills to make up for the “huge amount” of unrecorded time she spent on every case. This lack of transparency prompted Madonna’s business manager to request a breakdown of the hours only to be told that they do not usually provide a breakdown.
These disclosures give rise to concerns about the transparency of solicitors’ billing practices.
Since being appointed last October, Alan Sampson, the Legal Ombudsman, has said that he has opened thousands of investigations into allegations of over-billing by solicitors and Marc Gander, the founder of the Consumer Action Group, said that many consumers were being kept in the dark about what they were being charged.
Mr Sampson also noted that “people seem to be largely intimidated and in awe of their lawyers and are uncomfortable about challenging them about their legal expenses, which in some cases have increased for no good reason.”
According to a recent study, 20% of all complaints received by the Legal Ombudsman concerned a lack of clarity concerning solicitor’s fees. This indicates that many people are unsure of what they are being charged for and signifies the importance of ensuring that bills are as transparent as possible.
At Taylor King we provide fixed fee charges for certain work including divorce and in other cases we provide an estimate of costs before commencing work, regular updates if that estimate is likely to change and a detailed breakdown of costs to ensure that all our clients know exactly what they are paying for.