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Article by Guest Contributor

A question I often hear is why are attorneys’ fees so high.
This article does not examine unethical attorneys (and unfortunately there are some) who ask exorbitant fees and deliver poor serve. This article discusses the average attorney that delivers a good service and charges fees at the rates prescribed by the Law Society and where the public feels that the attorneys’ fees are high.

How do you know the difference?

So how do you know the difference about when the attorneys’ fees are high or when it is justified?
The answer is simple: if the attorney performed the job that you hired him/her for, the fee should be paid. If the fee feels high to you, check with the Law Society what the prescribed fees are supposed to be, compare it to the statement you received, and if it is higher, then take the matter up with the attorney. If the attorney refuses to negotiate with you, ask that the statement be taxed. Read our article on What to do if you feel your attorneys’ fees are too high about taxation.

So, why are attorneys’ fees so high?

It is a rule in the financial world that one’s income level is commensurate with the level of the problems that one has to solve. You can agree that the responsibility on attorneys is quite hefty, and you pay a premium for that. A surgeon’s fees and doctor’s fees generally are higher than those of attorneys, yet I have never heard anybody complain about or query these medical fees. It could be that people feel that a surgeon holds your life in his/her hands and because of this they are  entitled to charge a lot. But I think the reality is that, because most people have medical aids, they never examine the real costs that doctors and private hospitals charge, because they are not directly responsible for the medical costs. In general people don’t have cover for legal costs, or if they do, it usually is insufficient to cover for it. If you pay for it yourself, then it feels that the attorneys’ fees are high. If we had attorneys’ aid like we had medical aid, I bet you nobody would have complained.
As an alternative to high attorney fees you might want to rather consider a Contingency Fee agreement with your attorney.

Attorneys’ effect on your life

In a lot of areas of the law attorneys also hold your life in their hands. Think of a person who is charged with a criminal offense – a good attorney can make a world of difference in your case. Think of divorces – a bad attorney or no attorney can cost you a lot of money and/or future losses. The same goes for third party claims, or suing people who owe you money or being sued by people you owe money to. Also, an attorney can save your live when you have to make application for an interdict where your life is being threatened by another. Some people face financial ruin and need assistance with this. So if the measure of a surgeon that he/she is entitled to charge high fees
because they hold your life in their hands, then the same applies to attorneys in a lot of respects.

But really, why are attorneys’ fees so high?

Attorney are professionals. Experts, if you will, in legal knowledge. It takes us taken 6 – 8 years to study and become and attorney. We write very difficult exams to be able to practise law and to do conveyancing. When you hire an attorney, you are buying his/her knowledge that was not easy to get. In a lot of cases that attorney also has to do further research to be able to handle your matter. You also pay for the skill of the attorney in applying the law and expertise that comes with years of As soon as you have instructed an attorney to do a job for you, your problem becomes that of the attorney. If the attorney does not apply his/her mind correctly, or neglects to do the job, or do it right, or miss deadlines, or something goes wrong, then you can suffer damages or get locked up in jail for the rest of your life, if it is a criminal matter. To be able to deliver the service to you, the attorney also has an office with staff that must be paid and without which the attorney cannot do. Sometimes there are other expenses added to the statement, like advocates, valuators, social workers or such, depending on the nature of the case. This can also make the attorneys’ fees high.
The attorney may also be personally responsible for any losses that you may suffer. If you suffer any damages as the result of the attorney, you can claim this from the Fidelity Fund. That means being an attorney is a high risk profession. And just as much as you pay a premium for an expert, you pay a premium for the risk the attorney takes on your behalf.

Attorneys fees prescribed by the Law Society

The Law Society prescribes the fees that attorneys can charge. These fees have been carefully calculated by the Law Society to include the expertise, professionalism, knowledge as well as the expenses of the attorney. In other words, the fees were calculated to be justified and not just thumb suck figures.

What do you pay for when you pay attorneys fees

You buy a lot with your money. You get someone who deals with your problem on your behalf. You get someone who applies his/her hard-earned knowledge and expertise (and still has to stay up to date, study and do research all the time) for your benefit. You get someone who makes sure that the necessary documents go where they must in a legal system (the state departments) that is getting more and more bogged down with bad service, missing files and red tape. Who sometimes have to do the same job 3 or 4 times because the clerk of the court or the master’s offices have “mislaid” the file 3 or 4 or more times. Who manages a business and staff with high expenses, while he/she gives legal assistance to clients. You get someone who sometimes don’t sleep because they Somebody who usually chooses the profession because they like to help other people.
And that, explains why attorneys’ fees are high.