One of Britain’s highest profile divorce lawyers Baroness Fiona Shackleton was questioned, about the “mark ups” added to her bills to a number of her celebrity clients, by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA). In a Daily Telegraph article http://tgr.ph/qWukDC Lady Shackleton’s law firm Payne Hicks and Beach were subject to an investigation by the SRA in 2009.
The Daily Telegraph has seen invoices sent to high-profile client’s such as Sir Paul McCartney and Madonna which include a “mark up” to her £550 per hour rate. The SRA were told that the “mark up” were added to her clients bills as lump sums to make up for the huge amount of time spent on every case which was not recorded. Lady Shackleton said she was available “24 hours a day, 52 weeks of the year” to her clients.
The investigation which closed within a year did not impose any sanctions and there have been no complaints filed by the individuals about the service they received or the amount they were charged.
Solicitors have always been able to apply “mark ups” to their invoices to reflect many things such as the nature and complexity of the work, the amount of time spent, knowledge required and responsibility involved, the value of the transaction, property or subject matter. This is not an exhaustive list and a typical mark up will apply where time is of the essence such as a last-minute instruction before a hearing.
In all cases the Solicitor must justify to the satisfaction of the client who ultimately will decide whether or not to pay that account. If the client is not happy to pay and the solicitor cannot agree terms then the SRA will investigate.
Legal ombudsman Alan Sampson said that he opened thousands of investigations of law firms overbilling their clients since his appointment a year ago, he said that the billing systems used by law firms were in desperate need of reform.
Thankfully like many others I now provide an itemized breakdown in an effort to ensure our cost conscious clients are able to see the service they are paying for.