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1 BBN MEDIA Television and Radio Transcription Service Tel: TRANSCRIPT Station: RTE Radio One Programme: Drivetime Date: Time: 15 minutes Ref: The Law Society Presenter (Mary Wilson): We re coming back today to something we ve had much discussion of on this programme, solicitors fees. And a consumer agency survey out today shows huge variations in the fees charged by solicitors for services such as wills, probate and conveyancing and solicitors displaying their fees are few and far between this survey has found. So I m joined by Fergal O Leary of the National Consumer Agency and by Ken Murphy of The Law Society. Let me come to you first Fergal O Leary. Tell us about the methodology of this survey, how many you sent out and what you asked and what the response rate was like? Fergal O Leary (National Consumer Agency): Yeah we started out Mary with a list of around four hundred solicitors and whittled that down to three hundred and twenty nine and we wrote to all of those with a list of requirements for making a will for a typical conveyancing transaction and for taking out a grant of probate. And in return we just got sixty five quotes back which is a response rate of around twenty percent which unfortunately is significantly less than comparable studies that we ve done in the recent past. And did you get a cross section around the country? We got a fair representation across the country. Obviously we would have liked more quotes and we would have liked to have a higher response rate but we looked at the area right across the country and we split it into a number of different areas so, you know the survey does show that there are huge variations, nationally and in the individual regions that we looked at as well. In the costs. Ok we ll break them down in between the three areas, the wills, probate and conveyancing. You also asked about displaying their fees. Now they are not required by law to display fees. But have any of them used the opportunity to put their fee rates up? 1

2 Not from our experience here and you re right there is no requirement in law for anybody to display their fees at present but what we did find on the basis of the sixty five solicitors that came back to us was that one solicitor displayed fees at her, his or her premises. There were thirty six of them with websites and non of them indicated to us that they had prices up on our website and I suppose all of this is coming back to a simple point in that we found it very difficult to obtain fees and obtain quotes for routine and straightforward services. And we re hoping that we might work with The Law Society over the coming months to make that situation a little bit better because I think the average consumer out there today who was ringing around for a quote would find it very difficult, too difficult in fact. Alright we ll talk to Ken Murphy in just a moment. I just want to get the information that you elicited from the twenty percent that responded to your survey. Let s look at conveyancing. Now you gave them an example so it wasn t just ranging far and wide. You asked them to quote you for a very average second hand semi d selling for two hundred and twenty thousand euro and what they would charge for the conveyance involved. Yeah that s a very important point. We sent out a list of requirements so we were comparing like with like. We weren t simply ringing people up and asking how much is a conveyance because that obviously then can lead into, well what type of conveyance etc. etc. So we sent out our list of requirements and in response to that list we got an average price of one thousand three hundred and two euros ranging from a low of seven hundred and fifty euros up to a high of three thousand two hundred and fifty euros which is an awful difference, a huge difference in fact. It certainly is. On the wills. On the wills the fees ranged, the fees charged ranged from fifty euros to three hundred with an average of a hundred and nineteen and we should point out as well that two solicitors indicated to us for new business that they don t charge for making a will. So some good news there. Indeed. And the final one was probate. 2

3 The grant to probate. So again a routine and straight, or as straightforward a scenario as possible was presented and in return from the sixty five solicitors we got an average price of two thousand seven hundred and sixty seven ranging from a low of nine hundred and fifty and to a max of five thousand and two hundred euros. Five thousand two hundred. I suppose the only thing that can be said is that at least twenty percent of them responded to you and gave you straightforward and hopefully honest answers about what their price range was be. Ken Murphy good evening. Ken Murphy (The Law Society): Good evening Mary. Can you offer an explanation for these huge differences in variations in the fees that are being charged by solicitors for those basic jobs of work? Yes there is an explanation and the explanation is competition. If everybody was quoting the same fee it would show an absence of competition but the fact that there are many people quoting different fees shows a presence of competition. It bears out what the National Consumer Agency and The Law Society have been saying for years which is that people should shop around and they will get different quotes and they can make their choice. The Consumer Agency itself says in its report here this afternoon, it says fee is only one element of choice. You know solicitors firms do compete on other things as well, quality for example or service. But fee, if people shop around or seek quotes they will get competitive quotes. I m very surprised that they haven t been getting much more response. I m not sure Can I say this to you Ken Murphy, I don t have time to shop around. I don t have time to start ringing up solicitors offices or going from solicitor s office to solicitor s office. I d like to be able to go on a website or be able to access something like the Consumer Agency or your own website where I could get access to the details so that I can make up my mind but we don t have time. People don t have time for this shopping around at all. But the fact is people do shop around. This is a very important transaction. For example the purchase of a house is a very important transaction. The costs do vary and people if they shop around, just as people are encouraged as consumers to shop around generally and they will get lower prices. Interestingly Should there not be an easier means of accessing information bearing in mind that only twenty percent of your members responded to this survey? 3

4 I m not quite sure actually, I m not sure actually whether the National Consumer Agency sent out its enquiries as the National Consumer Agency or as a named projected client? Let s ask, let s ask Fergal, yes. Mary if I could come in there. We, we fully were up front with this survey and we did, we did say that the letter was from the National Consumer Agency and we followed up by telephone and on a number of occasions as well. Can I make a point there? It was readily apparent therefore to anybody who is being approached, any solicitors firm that there was no business to be gained out of this. If they were being approached by a client they may well have given a quote because I think it s pretty notorious in Ireland particularly as there s hardly any conveyancing going on at the moment. In Ireland when there was a lot of conveyancing going on it was cut throat in the marketplace and there was a huge downward pressure on fees Is this good, is this good customer relations by your members? Well if we had been brought in we would certainly have encouraged members to cooperate with the National Consumer Agency survey but in terms of, can I just make one point to show the level that there is of competition out there, there was a range of prices being offered but the average figures given and I m looking at the table in front of me from the report which is published today, we haven t had a thorough opportunity to really consider it yet but in the conveyancing fee, the average fee in Dublin was one two eight five, in rest of Leinster was one two o nine, in Munster was one two nine seven, Connaught Ulster was slightly higher, a couple of hundred euro higher but on average fees were actually quite similar which shows again competition at work. To come back to you Fergal O Leary to respond to what Ken Murphy has been saying. He says this is competition at work. People are shopping around. Well there is competition and that is welcome but unfortunately the difficulty that we have is that I think consumers out there will have difficulty in accessing this competition and what we re looking for is for fees for straightforward scenarios to be made more readily available because as you say we don t have all day to be going around shopping around for services. But if in this modern age getting legal services is no different to getting medical or dental services we feel that for routine and standard services that prices should be more readily available and then as Ken has said there are variations in price right throughout the country and people can take advantage of that. 4

5 What about that Ken Murphy? Post a price list be it on your website or in your office. There are over two thousand two hundred firms in the country. They are all competing particularly for general practice type area work like this but one of the things that was proposed was, and I know it s in the report, was that the recommendation that maybe firms should have a price list which they could display on their offices. Now there s nothing at all preventing solicitors from doing at the moment. We ve quite a liberal regime in relation to advertising for solicitors in Ireland But there s nothing requiring them to do it either. Nothing requiring but can I just make a point in relation to this and I think it s worth bearing in mind. The complexity of legal services is such that a list of prices even for the most apparently straightforward of services would in all likelihood have to be hedged around by so many definitions, qualifications, general small print has to be almost unreadable to passers by Ken Murphy you re the legal profession, you re able to sort out the small print. Well no, but in terms so that people and the real problem is that the such a list would probably be next to useless. What people actually do get, what clients in Ireland received by law is something far more informative and valuable than anything they could obtain from a price list. They receive customised price information based on an assessment of the law and facts specific to their individual case of transaction. They receive it in a form of a letter from their solicitor very shortly after the commencement of the action is the form of a section sixty eight letter. That is much more valuable than a price list could be. But of course they re in the system, they re in the system then at that stage you know. But it is also actually much more accurate and much more attuned to their particular case so that they will get something valuable which they wouldn t get from a price list because there s such a variety of legal work and the time commitment of each individual case A final word to you Fergal O Leary. The purpose of this survey at a time when we re going to have changes thrust upon the legal profession by the Troika and the Memorandum of Understanding. 5

6 Well the purpose of this survey firstly is to illustrate to consumers that there is benefit to shopping around which I think we ve proved but also And we agree. Indeed. But also and more importantly it shows to use the difficulty in obtaining quotes for standardised services and I agree, I don t think myself or Ken or indeed the National Consumer Agency and The Law Society are a million miles away on this, but everybody has said to us when we started out, doctors, dentists, childcare providers etc. have said that their own industry is different and you can t put up standardised fees but if you sit down and around the table you can agree things and you can agree a standardised list which will be of the benefit for consumers. We would certainly sit down and see if that s possible but I would make the point that we re unaware of any jurisdiction in the world where lawyers have price lists outside their offices. Alright well we re delighted we may have played a part in bringing you both together. That s wonderful. Thank you Mary. Ken Murphy and Fergal O Leary thank you both very much. ENDS Supplied by BBN Media 6

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