Top corporate law firms have hiked their fees so high that it's now preventing access to justice.
According to a report released today by the Centre for Policy Studies, an hour of a partner's time at a leading London law firm could land people with a bill for £1,000.
The researchers blame a increase in complexity of legal systems in the UK, lack of transparency over pricing among top firms and insufficient levels of competition in the industry as reasons for the spike in costs.
"The top commercial law firms in the City of London are regarded as some of the best legal practices in the world, and are some of the most expensive providers of legal services," said Jim Diamond, legal costs expert and author of the report.
"However they are also some of the least transparent, particularly in terms of pricing: while they do publish yearly statistics on the performance of their firm, from turnover to profit per partners, they do not publish information on the hourly rates charged to their clients."
The report also criticises the practice of charging for time worked rather than for result achieved, calling it both inefficient and a drain on productivity.
"The 'billable hour' is an outdated and unsustainable billing method for legal services to continue. Alternative billing methods must be considered and legal procedure must be simplified to ensure that the legal market place thrives in the long term, and the price of law is not punitive."
Commenting on the report, Catherine Dixon, chief executive of the Law Society, said:
"The fees charged by City firms reflect the complexity of the work and high standards required by corporations from across the world, which use English law and our firms because we are a centre of legal excellence. Many of these firms offer competitive prices. They are highly successful businesses operating in a competitive sector. We should be celebrating their phenomenal success."