Solicitors to bid for cases online as clients shop for best price
An online service allowing solicitors bid against each other for work is to be launched in Ireland next month.
Users of the website will be able to confidentially submit details of the legal service they require and these would then be forwarded to a panel of suitable law firms in their area.
The firms would then be invited to bid for the work. It is the first service of its kind in Ireland, but similar operations have existed for several years in the US. Known as LawBid, the web portal is the brainchild of Kid Harwood, a director of Manchester firm Wildings Solicitors.
The system has been in operation in England and Wales since August and Mr Harwood's company, LawBid Ltd, plans to launch a similar operation in Ireland on October 3.
The company said the services most frequently procured through its English and Welsh operation were in the areas of family law, divorce, employment and immigration.
It has been used by 258 people so far.
LawBid insists it is not operating a simple price comparison website, but is putting the onus on solicitors to offer services at reasonable rates. It also says it will allow smaller firms with a poor online presence better access to the market.
"As much as we want to create a competitive environment, it is as much about choice and simplicity for the consumer," said Mr Harwood.
Solicitors firms will be charged an annual fee to register with the website. Mr Harwood was unable to confirm Irish prices, but said they would be similar to those operating in the UK, where there are three different types of subscription package.
The basic option in the UK, costing Stg£295 (€345) annually, allows firms to bid for work within a 10-mile radius of their premises. They can make as many bids as they like, but must stop bidding once they have reached a quota of five successful bids in a single month.
A premium option, costing firms Stg£495 (€580) annually, gives firms national exposure and allows them up to 10 successful bids per month.
Bids are disclosed only to the client and are not made public. Critics of the service currently operating in the UK say it is encouraging a race to the bottom.
However, Mr Harwood rejected this, saying it would encourage better services for consumers.
"We have a system in place where clients can rate a solicitor. Other clients will be able to see ratings when deciding whether to retain a solicitor. We feel this system will help maintain the quality of the services offered," he said.
The Law Society has yet to express a view on LawBid's arrival and is seeking more information.