Savvy Law Firms Leave London to Cut Fees; Relocation: Lawyer Trevor Asserson Moved His Business from London to Jerusalem but Continues to Work for Many Clients in the City
Byline: JOSHUA ROZENBERG
LAW IS a business, a senior lawyer in one of the big City firms tellsme. "Most of us are open to discussion about fees." The solicitor is respondingto criticism from clients who feel they are contributing too much to law firms'rising profits. Much of this concern is directed at the system of hourly rates,with the taxi-meter clicking up every six minutes.
But lawyers say they are commonly asked to agree discounted rates for a majorproject or a continuing relationship.
And clients are increasingly asking law firms to pitch or quote a fixed fee fora particular piece of work..
These days, solicitors may also share some of the client's risk. Take, forexample, a private-equity house that makes several takeover bids during thecourse of a year. Lawyers must do "due diligence" work in advance but this iswasted if their client is outbid.
"We might charge our client 80% of our hourly rate if the bid fails on theunderstanding that they will pay us 120% for the bids that succeed," one firmsays. "Equally, we'll be asked to absorb all the costs if they don't get beyondRound One." Stuart Popham, senior partner of Clifford Chance, says there arenow "many and various" ways of structuring fees.
"There is no longereven if there ever wasa one-size-fitsall means of charging for legal services," he tells me. "Thepressure is there on law firms to ensure they are as efficient as they can bein a complex world." That means outsourcing routine work, such as documentproduction, to countries where labour is cheaper. If a computer at CliffordChance starts playing up, it will be serviced by a technician sitting in frontof a screen in India.
And why stop there? The law firm Asserson has a London phone number, a UKwebsite and a Chancery Lane document-exchange address. …