When it comes to legal fees, my advice is to begin as you mean to proceed; with clarity.
1. DO NOT put off a discussion regarding fees.
You might be nervous when you meet your solicitor for the first time. Whatever else you need to discuss with your solicitor, be sure to set aside 10-15 minutes towards the end of the first meeting to discuss fees.
I can guarantee that clarity regarding fees will make the process of getting divorced less stressful.
Ask all the questions you need to ask, do not hesitate or feel silly. Once you and your solicitor have agreed a fee structure he/she is obliged by law to give this agreement to you in writing.
You should expect a very formal letter outlining the agreement made. Take your time to read over and consider renegotiating the agreement before you sign.
Take your time. Remember Irish divorces take years to conclude. Any agreement regarding fees may therefore be in effect for some time. At the time of writing it is three years since my solicitor and I agreed upon a fee structure. As my case is particularly contentious it remains unresolved. I am still not legally separated and my agreement regarding solicitors fees remains in place.
Do not take on a solicitor to represent you unless you are both satisfied with and agreed upon how and when fees will be charged and paid.
2. How to pay – hourly rate Vs set-fee
My understanding from my own experience is that a standard set fee of 16,000 euro for a legal separation is not unusual. This fee can increase to 20,000 if your case has to go to court to be settled.
Since my particular case is complex and highly contentious my solicitor was reluctant to take it on on a flat-fee basis. I agreed to pay him by the hour. He reduced his fee from 350/hour to 300/hour. Administration and secretarial work carried out on my behalf at his office is also charged by the hour, but at a lower rate.
This fee arrangement often adds stress to my situation, as I am always counting the minutes! Although I requested an estimate, my solicitor could give no indication of how many hours the case would take. Be aware that the clarity provided by the law governing legal fees can be somewhat negated if you and your solicitor agree to a “pay by the hour” arrangement.
If you opt for payment by the hour do request time sheets for your case and go through them meticulously.
3. When to pay – now vs later
Payment upon settlement of a case is not unusual, but can result in an unhappy shock at the end of what is a stressful process.
My solicitor suggested that he send me a bill every time my case costs reached 3000 euro. For each 3000 euro owed I paid him 1000 immediately and deferred paying the balance until settlement of my case.
This was advantageous because it allowed me to keep track of my fees as we went along.
Every time he sent me a bill I requested a time-sheet to explain how the fees were reached. Reading through the time sheets
- gave me the confidence that my solicitor was charging me as per our agreement
- allowed me to correct any errors in time/hourly rates
- gave me insight into where the costs were coming from and how to cut down as the process continued
After I read through each time-sheet and before I paid each instalment I sent my solicitor an email to confirm my fees to date and we agreed upon an exact figure for outstanding fees.
If you are going to appear in court before a judge to settle your case you will need a barrister. Your solicitor will advise you on the best person and then write to him/her. My barrister charged a flat fee of 5000 euro to represent me. All negotiations regarding my barrister’s fees were carried out by my solicitor.
Don’t forget that the fees quoted by your solicitor and those mentioned above do not include VAT.
Legal services in Ireland are charged at a rate of 23% VAT. That’s almost a quarter of the cost on top of the solicitors/barristers costs.