First Law accused of fixing fees too low

The Bar Council has claimed that law firm First Law could be in breach of competition law by negotiating rates for barristers which are below levels set under the graduated fee scheme.

A letter from the Bar to all heads of chambers stated: “The Bar Council is concerned that these rates are unreasonably low for the level and importance of the work involved. The Bar Council is concerned that this is an inflexible scheme, which permits no violation to reflect factors such as complexity or level of court.”

Barristers who undertake social services work on behalf of 12 Northwest local authorities are negotiating fixed rates that will replace the previous ad hoc rates. The Bar Council objects to their proposals that barristers of one to five years call should receive £50 for one hour of preparation and £150 for a half-day hearing. It also objects to proposals for barristers of 11 years call and above to be paid £100 per hour for preparation and £450 for a one-day hearing.

The Bar’s code of conduct allows barristers to decline cases on the basis of the level of their fees.

Sylvia Roberts, the Borough Solicitor at Tameside Metropolitan District Council, one of the 12 councils involved in the scheme, said: “No fee rates have been fixed or set. While some barristers have responded positively to the scheme, the national response from the Bar Council has been to try and discredit the scheme with claims that it is anti-competitive.”