Is the Price right?

 In Practice Management

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method of charging law firms

This is the time of year when traditionally we look backwards to see where we have come from and look forward to see what the future might hold. It will not take very long to recall that cuts to government spending and increased taxes, whether stealth or otherwise, are at the top of the current agenda.

There are two major issues that confront us. First, commoditisation and secondly, our method of charging. The two are of course connected.

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Commoditisation

Is it possible to commoditise what we do? Those who say we can, or must, are of the view that one Will is very much like another and one estate to administer is no different from the next estate on the conveyor belt. Is this true? Every client that walks through the door is different. They all have different needs and they all have different concerns. The Will of couple A may look like the Will of couple B but the discussion leading to that point will often be very different. I do not think it is possible to say if you are a husband and wife with 2.4 children this is the Will for you and no further discussion is required. To my mind this point is proved by the fact that many couples are not married which leads to all kinds of issues particularly relating to inheritance tax. Then remember the growth in divorces and second marriages. How do you treat the spouse of your second marriage when you have children from your first marriage, who may, or may not, get on with their stepmother or stepfather? Try and commoditise that.

Now one estate may be very much like another in the sense that you have to ascertain assets, complete an IHT return, whether small or large, collect in the assets then distribute them to beneficiaries. In this day and age is it possible to say that all banks and all building societies will deal with cash in the same way or do you actually have to invent the wheel every time you write to one of these formally efficient, and now totally impossible, organisations with which you deal. The process may be similar but the actual mechanics in each case can be very different. One size fits all does not apply. The truth of the matter is that every financial organisation seems to have different rules for anti-money laundering and those rules change with alarming frequency so that what held good with bank A in January no longer holds good for bank A in June.

One price fits all?

As to the question of costs, I am told that the era of time charging is over. Really? Are we going to go back to the era of saying if the gross estate is £X then our bill will be £Y. Are clients really going to stand for that? Swings and roundabouts you may say but a client who pays a bill may not look at it in quite that way.

Many people in this country seem loathe to make Wills assuming that if you make a Will you will die more sooner than if you did not. Nonsense but what other explanation is there for the level of intestacies? And how can you possibly give a quotation for an intestacy if there is no spouse, civil partner or children? You can find yourself in a situation where relatives crawl from every possible piece of woodwork; some relatives have gone missing, but you want to make sure that you distribute the correct amount to the right people failing which you will be responsible for any damage or loss suffered.

It is very hard to give a fair estimate in this sort of case. So do you do say that the fee will be in within certain parameters, and the more unsure you are the wider the parameters? Is this going to be the way we operate in future, a cap and a collar? May be it is, but is it any better than a time charging system or weighing the file or value charging? You choose.

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