Shatter firm drops €5,000 claim against client
A MOTHER who sold a house to try to pay for her divorce has said she is relieved after Justice Minister Alan Shatter's law firm wrote off the final €5,000 of her legal bill.
The woman, who can not be identified for legal reasons, used her share from the sale of a holiday home to make a payment toward legal fees owed to Gallagher Shatter, the prestigious law firm co-founded by Mr Shatter.
A judgment of more than €25,000 was publicised in 'Stubbs Gazette' -- a weekly magazine that publishes the names of people who owe money -- after Gallagher Shatter took legal proceedings in 2009 to recover their fees.
The fees had been approved in 2008 by the Taxing Master of the High Court.
The woman managed to pay off more than €23,000 of the debt, but was pursued by Gallagher Shatter for the remainder, court interest at 8pc, and the firm's costs in taking legal action to recover its fees.
In all, the firm was owed almost €5,000. That debt has now been forgiven.
The reprieve comes as Mr Shatter is finalising plans to overhaul regulation of the legal profession.
These reforms include plans to boost competition in the "sheltered" profession and make costs more transparent.
Last night, the businesswoman, who is also trying to sell her family home to meet bank debts, said that she was relieved that Gallagher Shatter had dropped their claim to recover the remaining €5,000.
"I am relieved that the litigation has stopped, but I am still horrified by the overall cost of separation and divorce in this country for all parties and I am frustrated that couples in these proceedings can not talk openly about their experience.
"I appreciate the need for the 'in camera' rule to protect children, but there should be greater transparency about the operation of family law which affects so many people."
The former client, who defaulted on her monthly instalments to the firm when she got into financial difficulty with her business, was sued by Gallagher Shatter two years ago.
The firm was owed more than €25,000.
The general issue of transparency in legal costs has been raised separately by the Taxing Master of the High Court in a challenge to fees charged by Gallagher Shatter in another divorce case.
Last March, the Taxing Master said that in the absence of time records, suitable precedents or other transparent method of charge, the system of adjudication would remain opaque.
"Those that pay will know the work that was undertaken but not the real value of that work and as a paying party they have a right to know what work was done and what they are paying for," it found.
Reform of legal costs is expected to be a central feature of the planned Legal Services Bill, the publication of which is imminent.