The price of justice

By Bill WirtzLex Kleren

Legal fees are difficult to estimate in Luxembourg. In fact, only the most disadvantaged receive support for legal representation - in strict compliance with the thresholds. A reform of legal aid is in the works. Until it is implemented, legal fees in this country will either be paid back fully or not at all.

“Ignorantia juris non excusat”, ignorance of the law does not excuse, has legal obligations for citizens as a principle, but certainly isn’t meant in a literal sense. The Luxembourgish “Code du Travail” (Labour Law) weighs over one kilo, which does not even address the fact while this article is available in three languages, Luxembourg’s legal texts are not. That said, speaking French is of no considerable advantage when attempting to decipher the lingo of the law.

We aren’t so much supposed to know the law but to respect it or get legal representation when we don’t. This representation comes at a price and a hefty one at that. The legal fees in Luxembourg aren’t limited, set by the government, or transparent in any way. All too often, members of law firms aren’t themselves aware of what their own colleagues are charging. Establishing an average is merely a “guesstimate”.

It is unexpected that asking about rates would strike such a nerve with lawyers. With any other service, you can easily google a price, find rates online, or even get price comparison tools free of charge. Whoever has visited the United States will have seen law firms openly advertising their rates on TV and radio, or even on giant billboards overlooking busy streets. According to Reuters and ALM Media in 2018, hourly lawyer fees have increased by 400 per cent, which represents three times the value of inflation. One of the U.S’ largest law firms charges an hourly $950 on average.

Correlation of rental prices and lawyer fees

In Luxembourg, we are lacking viable data. The government’s “Guichet.lu” website lays out that lawyers must base their hourly fees on four criteria, namely lawyer’s level of responsibility, the degree of difficulty, the result obtained, and the client’s financial capacity.

“In the price lists that are established by my company, we take Luxembourg’s living costs into account”, says one young lawyer, who has asked to remain anonymous. Aware that the said company would not want her to speak out on the issue, she underlines that rising rental prices have led to continuous increases in lawyer costs. “What I’ve noticed is that increasingly, clients want to be kept in the loop of how much their case will end up costing them. That wasn’t the case five years ago”, says the lawyer.

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