Raymond Lambe examines an often overlooked factor that leads to high legal costs

Legal Costs, Cumbersome Procedures and Certificates of the Entry of a Memorandum of Satisfaction on the Registration of a Judgment

Lawyers are expensive and lawyers themselves are responsible for high legal costs. That is certainly how the majority of the public would seem to perceive matters. However, the view that Ireland is an expensive country to engage a lawyer is not really supported by the evidence and it is neither fair nor accurate to exclusively blame the lawyers for the level of fees charged. There are prosaic reasons for the high level of fees sometimes charged for seemingly basic tasks. Some of these reasons are outside the control of lawyers but they would not be as headline-worthy as those that upbraid the “avaricious” lawyers.

The reality for the majority of practitioners is that a significant amount of their fee income goes towards overhead expenses. There are also some systemic issues that contribute to high costs. There are some archaic and overly bureaucratic processes applied by certain State bodies that lawyers must navigate as part of their function and these processes can contribute considerably to legal costs. 

And this is what brings us to the cumbersome title of this article and a document called the “Certificate of the Entry of a Memorandum of Satisfaction on the Registration of a Judgment”. It is but one example of a systemic issue that results in higher legal costs. The very fact that a document has such an ungainly title should set the alarm bells ringing. It is one of two documents that must be completed and sent to the Central Office of the High Court in order to remove a registered judgment. The holders of judgments regularly require lawyers to do this on their behalf when a creditor repays the amount of the judgment owed or if a compromise is reached. It comes at a time when the proceedings have concluded, peace has broken out and both sides agree that the judgment can be removed from the register.

The other document that must be completed as part of this process has a similar, albeit slightly shorter, name. It is called a “Memorandum of Satisfaction on the Registration of a Judgment”. The documents admittedly serve different purposes but they are almost identical and there is a very considerable amount of overlap between them. The two documents between them require approximately twenty-six data points to be inserted. The name of the plaintiff in the case must be inserted in six different places across the two documents. If the subject judgment is a judgment of the District Court or the Circuit Court, a further level of bureaucracy must be dealt with. The memorandum of satisfaction must be signed by the relevant county registrar/court clerk before it is lodged in the Central Office of the High Court.

It is perhaps unsurprising that it can take weeks for these documents to be reviewed and that they are often sent back to the lawyers with queries on the information provided. To be clear, the professionalism of those reviewing these documents is not being called into question. Significant resource is dedicated to reviewing these overly complex documents and there are undoubtedly a range of internal rules and practices that apply to their review.

We price this particular kind of work according to the time taken to complete the task. The two documents must be completed, printed, stamped and then sent to the Central Office for processing. Any queries raised need to be addressed before re-submitting the documents. It should be possible to mark a judgment as satisfied by way of email to the Central Office of the High Court from the solicitors on record for the judgment holder in the proceedings. If this were allowed then we would be in a position to charge a greatly reduced fee.

In the interests of saving time and costs and as a matter of public policy, the process for marking a judgment as satisfied should be simple and quick. An extant judgment can have serious consequences for individuals. It can impact on their ability to get bank loans and it can prevent individuals from getting certain jobs. If a judgment is satisfied then it should be removed from the register in the most expeditious manner possible.

We all accept that limitations of the systems that are in place across various State bodies have to be accepted but pragmatic reforms that can be introduced at a reasonable cost should be considered. We have referenced one example here of a process that could be easily streamlined. Regrettably, there are others.

For more information on this or any matter, please contact Raymond Lambe or the team in OSM Partners LLP