Fixed fees in family law are nothing new – but they are still a rarity, and I cannot understand why. When I founded Woolley & Co family law back in 1996, among other things underpinning the service we offered was transparency on fees. Why? Because the common wisdom was that solicitors are expensive and the final bill will always be much higher than expected. Offering fixed fees was a way of addressing this.
So here we are, 16 years later, and while there are now a few more firms offering fixed fees, it is far from being the norm and there is still suspicion about solicitors’ pricing. It was therefore heart-warming to read last week about the Co-op’s fixed fee family law service. I definitely think it is the right thing to do though I was surprised they were making such as song and dance about it, as if they came up with the idea.
The premise is simple: a menu of services with a price tag for each. So, for instance with us, a pre-nuptial agreement is £930 (plus VAT), living together agreement is the same and a parental responsibility agreement is £420. It means clients know what they are paying in advance and there are no hidden costs.
Co-op now seems to be seeing this as a good idea and is pricing in a similar way, though it is offering legal aid packages, which is something we do not do. Perhaps with it being such a well-known high street brand for convenience shopping, the organisation may well be looking to attract a customer base from the high street in the same way.
The point is made that people trust the Co-op brand but that does not, in my opinion, follow through to family law automatically. They need time to build up a reputation in the family law arena, as Woolley & Co has done. I believe we now have a brand people know and trust. We have worked hard for that. It has come through hard work, professional family lawyers, top quality service and good results. Our specialist family lawyers work across England and Wales. Co-op will do the same but appear on paper to be much more process driven – franchise workers rather than those who care about and work to develop a business.
I don’t want this to come across as sour grapes. I am no opponent of competition. As I have always said, competition is good for a business and good for the client, so I will be watching Co-op’s achievements on fixed fees with interest. I just feel that we have been working at this for some time so for another organisation to come out and position themselves as trailblazers 16 years later does not quite sit right.