Australian law firms could learn from news coming out of the UK, where a Manchester law firm has this week launched a new practice group focused on chasing law firms that are overcharging.
The firm, Boote Edgar Esterkin Solicitors, is better known in England for its specialty in commercial work. But one of the firm's senior associates, Marc Yaffe, is determined to address what he believes is an increase in charges from law firms coming as a result of an uptick in competition for client work. He told Crain's Manchester Business that some law firms were offering low quotes to clients in order to initially obtain their work, "only to bill far more than that quote when the work was completed".
Australian cost lawyer and consultant Liz Harris told Lawyers Weekly she was not aware of any similar practice group in a general law firm in Australia. "It wouldn't surprise me if some firms started looking at that," she said. "But it's a fairly game thing to do, to actually effectively take on your competitors."
Harris operates with two practices - a consultancy and a law firm - primarily devoted to legal cost issues. She said her law firm does pure cost consulting, acting for parties having to pay or recovering costs pursuant to orders of the court.
"I get quite a few referrals from general law firms who don't want to do that themselves," she said. "There are also certain barristers who are tending to start to specialise in the area."
Boote Edgar named their service 'ab8', with the firm claiming that the practice group would assist its clients in commencing negotiations about alleged blowouts of legal costs and would, where needed, assist clients in commencing proceedings against law firms.
Harris said that her clients were becoming increasingly aware that competitive behaviour between law firms could lead to problems with legal fees. "Lawyers need to be careful with their estimates," she said. "It's not a great tactic to go in low, and then rely on being able to increase it."
- Angela Priestley