The Daily Telegraph recently reported on the growing concern surrounding the “lack of transparency over lawyers’ billing” in Great Britain. The Legal Ombudsman’s office, which replaced the Legal Complaints Service last year, reports that approximately 20% of complaints received are related to legal costs and fees. At the heart of matter, and codified in the Solicitors Regulation Authority code of conduct, is that lawyers “must give (a) client the best information possible about the likely overall cost of a matter both at the outset and, when appropriate, as the matter progresses.” [sic] Many British law firms are failing to follow this basic rule, leaving their clients in the dark and with hefty legal bills.
Adam Sampson, the chief Legal Ombudsman, is aware of the unethical billing practices and is trying to level the playing field between lawyers and customers in need of legal services. The stride toward billing reform comes after The Daily Telegraph learned that one of Britain’s most high-profile lawyers was failing to keep her clients informed of legal work performed and billed. Baroness Shackleton, who famously represented Paul McCartney during his divorce from Heather Mills, has billed time to clients after having finished their case.
Mr. Sampson is mindful of the fact that it is not always possible to give a client an accurate prediction of expected costs or even generate a fixed quote for legal services. However, customers should be informed about billing arrangements and potential increases as well as ways to keep law firms in check and accountable for any unethical charges.