The price of legal services such as conveyancing, getting a grant of probate, making a will and getting a divorce is on the rise in England and Wales.
However, shopping around for a lawyer can deliver huge savings, according to a new report by the Legal Services Board (LSB). The LSB is the oversight regulator of legal services in England and Wales and is independent from both the legal profession and the government. The LSB collected quotes from legal-service providers, comparing these with similar studies in 2015 and 2017.
There was a £569 difference in conveyancing costs when selling and buying freehold properties – and that was excluding the outlying most and least expensive firms. Average quotes for a complex and contested divorce varied between regions by more than £2,363. Even for a standard individual will you could save more than £114 by shopping around.
Here Which? explains what to look for when comparing prices and why it’s increasingly important to do so.
Make your search national
The biggest factor influencing a firm’s price, according to the LSB, was its location.
It found that legal services are generally 20% cheaper in the North of England and 17% cheaper in Wales, with London being the most expensive region.
Yet, just one in five people looking for legal services shop around, according to the LSB.
So while Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate legal systems and were not included in the study, there is nothing stopping a London homebuyer from using a conveyancing firm based elsewhere in England or in Wales, for instance.
The coronavirus pandemic has spurred changes in regulations that make it easier for legal firms to work remotely – for instance, the signing of wills can now be witnessed via video call.
Average prices for legal services across England and Wales
Quality, fixed fees and smaller providers
There is a relationship between the quality of a firm and higher prices, according to the LSB.
Yet, firms holding industry quality marks (such as being a member of the Law Society) were not – on average – more expensive than those without.
In contrast, providers offering fixed prices were on average 35% cheaper than those using estimates.
These differences may reflect the fact providers offering estimates – when pushed to give a single quote – tended to give one at the upper end of their expected range of prices.
The LSB also found fixed-fee providers were less likely to have cases that ended up costing the customer more than originally quoted.
The LSB also found that one-person providers were on average 33% cheaper than larger providers.
- Find out more: how to apply for grant of probate yourself
The rising price of legal services
Shopping around for legal services is becoming more important, as many legal firms appear to have raised their prices.
More than a third (36%) of firms had raised prices for conveyancing in the 12 months before the survey, with just 4% lowering prices.
A similar proportion had raised prices for wills, trusts and probate (33%) and divorce (30%).
Why we need transparency
It’s tough to shop around if you can’t easily compare costs.
The LSB began researching prices in 2015 following concerns limited competition in the legal sectors was putting individual consumers and small businesses at a disadvantage.
Since 2018, firms have had to display their prices for residential conveyancing and uncontested probate applications, among other services. They must explain how fees work and whether VAT is included.
Consequently, in 2020, the LSB found 40% more providers displayed prices on their website, compared to 2017. Half of divorce firms (52%) now display prices, despite not being required to do so.
It should be noted firms that do not publish prices aren’t necessarily more expensive, and so consider contacting firms directly when comparing costs.
Make sure that quotes include all the extra costs. For conveyancing, for instance, you could end up paying extra for bank transfers and searches.