Friday, January 18, 2008

Ballpark Figures

You'd never let a plumber touch your pipes without getting an estimate first. Chances are, you'd call in a few other plumbers to take a look and give you a figure, so that you could maybe save a few euros.

All the trades work the same way. The carpenter, the lawn service, they're all fully prepared to give you a rough idea of how much a project will cost.

But if you needed legal advice, you'd never think to ask the barrister how much he was going to charge you, would you?

A professional is expected to be honest when it comes to billing. The itemized list that you get after your case is settled will be lengthy, detailing every single minute that your barrister put into settling your difficulty. When he or she spoke to you for five minutes on the phone, when he or she had a letter or brief prepared, and possibly when he or she had a cup of tea with you in the office to discuss strategy.

Imagine getting an estimate before taking on legal counsel. Sounds ridiculous, when you consider how unpredictable a lawsuit could be. Lovely estimate, thanks very much, but how close to reality is it and how many adjustments will be made before the case is settled?

Ireland has decided that barristers must provide estimates to their clients, in a bid to lower prices and increase competition. The problem is, there's too much competition already because of the glut of lawyers hitting the market, which has encouraged junior barristers to undercut their stodgy old seniors in a bid to win some business.

Needless to say, the freshly minted lawyers are thrilled with the new ruling, because their potential clients will know straight off that the legal rookies cost less to hire. Unless you're in need of a prominent criminal defense counsel, you'd settle for the cheaper barrister in your run-of-the-mill action.

There was a time when the law was a gentleman's business. Now they're reduced to the level of a common tradesman. That ought to reduce the number of law school entrants.

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