Here is an interesting lecture suggesting that legal fees in the U.K. be fixed for small to medium-sized disputes. Download the lecture paper here. Establishing set prices across the board for various stages of litigation has numerous obvious problems but hiring a lawyer for her skill instead of price shopping and making law firm profitability a function of efficiency and effectiveness instead of the time taken to complete a task are obvious advantages of the proposal.
In the paper, Lord Justice Jackson argues that “High litigation costs inhibit access to justice. They are a problem not only for individual litigants, but also for public justice generally. If people cannot afford to use the courts, they may go elsewhere with possibly dubious results. If costs prevent access to justice, this undermines the rule of law.”
He goes on to blame hourly rates and cost shifting as the main culprits: “The genesis of the problem. The present level of costs and complexity of civil litigation has evolved over time under the influence of costs shifting and the system of ‘hourly rate’ remuneration. Remuneration on a time basis rewards inefficiency. Unrestrained costs shifting drives parties to leave no stone unturned: the more costs mount up, the more determined each party becomes to ensure that the other party pays them.”
Although we do not have cost shifting to blame, hourly billing and the potential inefficiencies certainly are prevalent here.