Dutch Bar lets market forces decide payment

FACED with a government report condemning the Dutch Bar's system of fixed fees, Dutch lawyers will let the market decide their payment from next year.

Until now, every year the Bar Association has issued its lawyers with a guideline formula for calculating fees. Based on a basic tariff of 280 Guilders (£104) per hour, lawyers can charge a maximum of twice that amount and a minimum of half of it, depending on experience and the urgency of the case.

But the Cohen inquiry – a government inter-departmental working party into the legal profession – and the Dutch Bar Association's own inquiries have revealed that small and medium-sized companies considered the fees too high.

As a result, the General Council of the Bar has decided to scrap its tariff system from 1 January 1997 and will instead issue lawyers with advice on a range of billing systems.

Tony Huydecoper, president of the Dutch Bar Association, said: “In practice, the guidelines were used quite a lot by the courts to establish legal fees.

“The guidelines were being used by the courts as gospel, and we wanted to lose that semi-sacral status.”

The Cohen working party recommendations will also lead to the ending of the Dutch Bar's monopoly on court representation. Amendments to the laws governing advocates, arising out of the Cohen recommendations, are to be voted on by the Dutch parliament in September.

The amendments will allow all in-house or “employed” lawyers to join the Bar and appear in court provided they act only as counsel for their employer.

Lawyers employed by non-profit-making organisations and those employed by legal-costs insurance companies will also be allowed to represent outside clients under certain restrictions.

Huydecoper said: “There are currently 8,500 members of the Bar. This would potentially allow another 4,000 to join. But in practice we don't expect the majority will use the facility. It'll probably be more like 500 to 1,500 lawyers who join.”