In a recent article published in the Canadian magazine Slaw, Noel Sample, professor of law at the University of Windsor, expressed his concern at the difficulty of clients to assess the quality-price ratio of legal services. He also denounced the fact that the legal community does it “with suspect and opaque methodologies, such as track records”.
Pierre-Claude Lafond, professor of law at the Université de Montréal, researcher and lawyer, makes the same observation.
Highly variable fees
“Setting a lawyer’s fees varies according to several factors: his reputation, the number of years in practice, the reputation of the firm in which he practices, the type of case, the risk associated with the case, etc. A lawyer working alone might command $150 per hour, while an associate of a large firm will require $600,” says Pierre-Claude Lafond.
Too little measurement of customer satisfaction
Without a measurement of customer satisfaction, the costs that the services of a lawyer represent may seem as unaffordable as incomprehensible, and constrain citizens from choosing to be represented. “The client experience with a law firm is unfortunately not measured or widely disseminated,” says Pierre-Claude Lafond. “I is not therefore possible to be informed. This lack of information harms citizens seeking a lawyer.”
Nowhere to inquire before paying the bill
Even though some lawyers offer to be paid on a contingency basis, which they will only claim if they win the case, the client is in an uncertain and risky situation with respect to his finances. “Even if allowed, lawyers do not advertise their fees, and billing by the hour prevents any predictability of the final bill,” says Pierre-Claude Lafond.
Other approaches to explore
Lawyers are invited to review their billing method. Citizens are increasingly eager to obtain a prior assessment of costs for the services they will receive. “In a context of difficult access to justice, lawyers must offer their services in new ways,” says Pierre-Claude Lafond. “This can be package services (the amount of which is known in advance), pay-per-use services or open consultation services, payable monthly or annually. There are some interesting examples of these new offers on the internet…”