Whatever one's view, I feel it would be a worthwhile exercise to look at the arguments for and against having a conveyancing tariff.
The argument for having a tariff
Generally where the tariff is a fixed fee charged according to the value of the transaction or a sliding scale, more expensive property transfers subsidise less expensive ones - the rich subsidise the poor. Such profits might even subsidise less remunerative aspects of the legal practice. By allowing attorneys to negotiate, conveyancing has for some attorneys become unprofitable as costs have increased. Conveyancing could therefore end up being the preserve of a limited number of big firms.
On a purely practical level a fixed fee allows the attorney the time to practice law instead of hassling over the reasonableness or not of the fee. As Anon wrote last week:
Regrettably attorneys are their own worst enemies when it comes to this - if you are not prepared to justify your fee and explain why a client is getting value for money and opt for the easy route of allowing a discount, then the impression given is that the attorney is making a killing and a discount is justified and is there for the asking. Another way of addressing the problem is to ask what part of the service you are going to render that they are prepared to forfeit ... do they even know what the "job" entails?
You are providing a responsible and professional service for which you are entitled to charge a reasonable fee ... ask what part of the fee is unreasonable. Do not cheapen the service you provide by giving a discount just because a client asks. When buying groceries upon arriving at the checkout do they ask for a discount? Did they ask the estate agent for a discount on commission? Our standard answer is a quick "No we cannot afford discounts, and believe we are giving you a first class service" and end it there...we proceed to justify our fee where the client is more persistent.
The argument against having a tariff
This view has been expressed eloquently by Graham Paddock in the January De Rebus, in which he sees the ad valorem tariff as being a threat to conveyancing. He thinks that attorneys should move to charging for conveyancing services on a "time and attendance" basis. Only by adopting a scale of fees related to the value of the work done, will attorneys be able to retain conveyancing work and make a reasonable profit from it. Other arguments against the fixed tariff run along the lines that such tariffs amount to anti-competitive, price-fixing behaviour, in that the free market is not free to find its own levels.
A mixture between the two?
Last year the Law Society of Singapore abolished conveyancing scale fees, yet ironically its members then asked for fee guidelines. Different modes of charging, types of conveyancing transactions and the sizes of firms were considered. The guidelines therefore represent an attempt to help the solicitor and client reach an agreement as to what is a fair and reasonable fee given the circumstances of the transaction.
These circumstances include:
A collegue once had a bill of costs drawn for an average straight-forward transfer file on the high court tariff and had the taxing master cast an eye over it...the fee that the client would have paid on a taxed bill, as opposed to the tariff fee would have been more! I do not forsee a decrease in the cost to the public having regard to the Guidelines. But yes, conveyancing will end up in the hands of a few firms that see value in the service that they provide, as opposed to others who to their detriment, will subidise the cost of the services they render to their clients and find their practices unsustainable.
Ek as aktesekretaresse wat die werk al vir 28 jaar verrig, wil net onder u aandag bring dat die werk aan die registrasie van hetsy 'n transport of verband, het seker driedubbeld vermeerder. Die uitgawes het vermeerder aangesien daar aanhoudend seloproepe gemaak word. Die kliënte verwag al hoe meer van die prokureur om hul opbrengs uit hul verkoop aan verskeie persone en instansies uit te betaal. Die prokureur moet sy kostes tot op die been sny sodat die koper die huis kan "bekostig".
Dus, die prokureur word in effek "mede eienaar" met sy finansiële hulp aan die kliënt om die huis te bekom. As in berekening gebring word die volume werk wat die prokureur verrig teenoor die werk wat die eiendomsagent verrig, is die prokureur net 'n aalmoes toegeken. Die ordes moet weer soos in die verlede die prokureurs verbied om van die voorgestelde tariewe af te wyk. Sommige van die kliënte loop van prokureur tot prokureur om uit te vind wie nie vir BTW geregistreer is nie (sela, watter prokureur kan oorleef as hy nie eers BTW-waardig is nie) sodat daardie prokureur sy oordrag moet doen sodat hy minder hoef te betaal. Die prokureur se werk word op so baie gebiede van hom weggeneem.
Daar word nie in aggeneem wat dit 'n prokureur kos om al die rekenaars te koop, laser drukkers, regsprogramme, modums, personeel, fooie vir elke elektroniese opdrag, docex ens ens ens. Die prokureur word 'n bedelaar en die publiek behandel hom so. Prokureurs, aarde tog, trek julle sokkies op, los jul lamlendigheid en eis jul respek wat jul verdien terug asook eis betaling vir jul werk wat jul doen en waarvoor jul geleer het. Die banke se werk is ook op die prokureur oorgeskuif en die prokureurs doen dit maar gelate verniet om net nie van die paneel verwyder te word nie. Hou op om lamsakke te wees en staan op julle reg.