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Attorneys upping fees despite recession

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Ireland's legal eagles are continuing to charge exorbitant client fees despite the economic recession and ongoing austerity measures, an independent report has found.

As a headline from Dublin's The Herald put it: "as everyone else drops prices, solicitors raise them".

Amazingly, as the column notes, this is despite the fact that the sector is almost as beset with economic woes as the rest of the economy, and many solicitors and barristers (Ireland maintains separate branches of the legal profession; in the US both are 'attorneys-at-law'), are out of work.

Don Tornhill of the National Competitiveness Council (NCC) said that while competitiveness was gradually on the mend, the legal profession continues to buck the trend by charging high fees.

It is well known that Ireland has effectively priced itself out of much foreign tourism, with many European travel destinations offering far better prices for visitors, but the fact that legal services remain as pocket-pinching as ever will come as a surprise to practically nobody.

The paradox was perhaps best summed up by Tornhill himself who noted, with a hint of amazement: "The worrying thing about legal costs going up comes [is that] quite a lot of solicitors and lawyers are feeling the impact of the recession [themselves]." Yet clearly a very different message is being heard by consumers who continue to fork out massive prices for an assortment of legal services.

What's improving, according to the NCC, is exports -- a traditional mainstay of the Irish economy. But perhaps that's merely a product of necessity: where the Irish seem content to pay for ridiculously expensive services despite a devastating recession foreigners simply are not, but it's a grim indictment of the legal services industry that they almost alone seem stubborn about maintaining a facade of being able to charge high prices for their services when the population as a whole is simply not able to pay.

Questions need to be asked of the Law Society (regulating solicitors) and the Bar Council (regulating barristers) as to why they are prepared to oversee a profession where this continues to be the case.

Although the Law Society seems reasonably proficient at freezing wayward solicitors' assets, perhaps to protect the repute of the profession as a whole, they seem less adept at sending a clear message to conforming ones that charging pre-bailout prices in the current economic climate is simply unfair and extortionate.

Legal advice is often a necessity: one faced with a court summons or impending lawsuit has often no choice but to seek recourse to professional legal advice. In many situation the prospect of self-representation is an insurmountably difficult one, and wholly un-viable. As statistics continue to demonstrate, those who choose to state their own case before professional courts do so at their own peril, and often with very limited success.

If the legal eagles seem set on holding onto the belief that they can charge the man on the street the same prices as they did before the bailout, however, where possible, the consumer should tell them that this isn't the case.

Attorneys fleecing the man on the street is nothing new, but at a time when unemployment tops 14% it shouldn't be tolerated.

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