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Reacting to long-standing criticism of lawyers’ obscure fee-setting practices, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations has decided to ask its members to give prospective clients a written estimate of the cost before rendering a legal service.

The measure will be complemented by a parallel plan by the federation to compile an informal list of the legal services available for people seeking assistance, particularly for litigation.

The federation says it plans to publish the suggested fee list in a booklet and make it available at law courts and other legal service centers.

The move follows a government plan to abolish the “standard provision” for legal fees from next spring. Despite its name, the system lacks transparency and essentially allows lawyers to set their own fees, based on the complexity of the case as they see it.

Responding to criticism of the fee system, the government-appointed Judicial Reform Council issued a report in 2001 calling for more transparency in litigation fees. Legislation to abolish the standardized fee system was tabled during the current Diet session.

Anticipating legal changes in the lawyers’ fee system, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations has made it obligatory for lawyers to disclose their fees to potential customers and draw up a payment contract with clients.

The federation, however, has stopped short of making it mandatory for lawyers to give prospective clients a written fee estimate, on the grounds that lawyers should be allowed to get used to the system first.

The changes contemplated by the bar federation are the result of a survey it conducted last fall among 2,300 lawyers across the country and concerning 40 types of civil litigation.

For litigation seeking 10 million yen in damages for a traffic accident, for example, the survey found that 34 percent of the lawyers said they would charge around 300,000 yen as an initial legal fee, while 31 percent put it at 500,000 yen. Another 1 percent put that initial fee at around 700,000 yen.

In the event the plaintiff is awarded the full damages, 78 percent of the lawyers said they would demand between 1 million yen and 800,000 yen in fees. Some lawyers, about 2 percent responding to the survey, said they would charge as much as 1.6 million yen.

The survey also reveals that lawyers charge higher fees for litigation involving medical malpractice.

For a lawsuit involving 10 million yen in damages for medical malpractice, 40 percent of the lawyers said they would charge around 500,000 yen as an initial legal fee, while 30 percent put the initial cost at around 300,000 yen.

Roughly half the lawyers said they would demand around 1 million yen in the event the client won a full damages award from the court, while 6 percent said they would demand 1.6 million yen.

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