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Fixed fees in probate: will it spread?

This article in The Lawyer today about fixed fees in legal work highlights what is perceived to be a shift in the approach by solicitors to billing, even at the high-end City firms.

My own view on the matter, as I have said in a previous post comparing the shift from hourly conveyancing fees to the percentage still charged on probate fees, I find few reasons to defend percentage charges in straightforward probate cases.

The argument has a different slant in relation to the City firms’ litigation, due diligence and advice work as the main method of billing at the moment is by the hour. There are arguments in favour of this in some circumstances: that it is very often difficult to predict how long some work will take, that giving fixed fees inevitably meaning that the straightforward cases cost more than they should in order to cover the cost of the less straightforward cases, etc.

However I think with probate cases it is relatively easy to give an accurate forecast of the likely cost. There is also a move towards the kind of insurance-style pricing in many arenas. People aren’t pleased when it turns out that they will have to pay more simply because of happenstance and so are more willing to accept a fixed price at the beginning, regardless of whether they think their case straightforward.

So where do percentage charges come into the equation? For probate fees I don’t think they should. The insurance aspect of the higher value estates helping to lower the fees of the lower value estates would only be persuasive if there was firm evidence that firms lost money on those lower value estates.

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