23 November 2017
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Fee guideline needed to keep legal services affordable: Forum

Straits Times
13 Nov 2017

Recent reports of overcharging and the professional misconduct of lawyers have raised more than a few eyebrows.

Chief among the concerns clients have about their lawyers relates to fees. From my own experience, there are some who try to milk more money from their clients. The tactics include:

•         Quoting the potential client a low fee, then subsequently increasing the fee substantially, citing reasons of complexity and time spent on the matter - even for a simple matter.

•         Collecting a deposit of thousands of dollars from the outset without actually commencing work or putting in minimal effort.

•         Holding a potential client "hostage" - for example, by sitting on a case until there is a looming deadline, at which point additional funds would be demanded before more work is done.

•         Quoting legal fees which are way beyond the lawyer's level of expertise.

•         Behaving rudely to the client or threatening to pull out if accounts are not topped up.

Fee arrangements in the industry are generally hourly based, for which lawyers can charge anything from $400 an hour to more than $1,000 an hour.

Besides the fact that these fees are arbitrary and there is no objective platform for comparison, the additional problem with this arrangement is that lawyers are also able to bill the client for any minor work done - including answering calls and reading e-mails - which can then add up to a substantial amount.

The fees for a lawyer are also way higher than the income of an average worker. Such outsized remuneration puts legal help out of the reach of ordinary Singaporeans.

I propose a fee guideline to keep legal services affordable and prevent overcharging.

Gregory Low