When your solicitor’s bill finally comes in, it is important for clients to understand what the costs on the bill relate to. It is essential that clients are aware of costs when they engage the services of professionals for all sorts of often complicated personal matters.
1. Guide to solicitor costs
Not all solicitors charge the same rate so clear and precise information about the costs for providing legal services allows clients to ‘shop’ around. That way they can find the service they require at the price they can afford, it allows them to budget accordingly and in the event of confusion as to the final cost of providing the service, makes it possible for the client to challenge the final solicitor’s bill.
Clients place lawyers and solicitors in the same “respected professional” bracket as doctors, e.g. someone that they can go to for highly complex personal matters, place their faith and trust in and do what’s right for them often in circumstances that can have life changing consequences.
A quarter of the total amount of complaints the Legal Ombudsman receives each year are related to legal costs on a solicitor’s bill and the majority of the time these complaints relate to poor service and poor communication from the solicitor.
Solicitors regularly use technical legal jargon that often means nothing to clients. For example, when it comes to viewing the final bill, do you know what ‘disbursements’ are and how they related to the final amount charged?
Legal matters can vary wildly in complexity and it’s important for clients to understand and for solicitors to explain the relative cost of providing these services. Sometimes the answer can’t be a fixed amount due to the complexity and length of time it takes to resolve certain legal issues. The level of experience and expertise of the solicitor dealing with your case may also have a bearing on the final bill.
2. Understanding Solicitors Costs
When seeking a solicitor here are some important questions that will help you understand their costs structure and make a comparison with other solicitors charging rates.
- Is there a charge for an initial consultation?
- How do you charge for your service?
- Can I have more detailed information on the way you charge?
- Do you have any fixed fees? If so are any costs excluded from the fixed fee?
- For your hourly rate, can I have an estimate for the cost of the whole service?
- If my costs change for any reason, will you tell me?
- Are there any additional costs not covered?
- Can I get financial assistance in paying for your legal service?
- What is your billing process and how long do I have to pay?
- If I don’t agree with your bill, what happens?
At White Dalton Motorcycle Solicitors we pride ourselves on doing our best to explain things as simply and clearly as possible. Whilst there may be some legal terms involved we work hard at being jargon-free. We’ve provided some solicitors costs guides below to help you think of questions you may want to consider when choosing a solicitor or querying a bill.
3. I have received my solicitors’ bill but I don’t understand it?
When you receive the bill from your solicitor, it will usually consist of three elements: fees, disbursements and VAT.
Fees relate to the professional services that your solicitor has carried out on your behalf. There are no guidelines to regulate the amount a solicitor can charge for non-court work but it should be fair and reasonable. For court related work, fees are governed by court rules and are on a scale, depending on the area and experience of the solicitor.
Disbursements relate to the expenses a solicitor has had to pay during the course of providing you with their services. This can include such things as fees paid to the courts and charges for access to police reports or medical reports.
4. My solicitor has charged me too much, what can I do?
If you want to dispute the amount of the final bill your solicitor has given you there are specific time limits to challenging your legal charges.
The process involved when seeking a reduction or refund on the legal fees charged is as follows:
Speak to your solicitor first
Contact your solicitor and query the fees. Ask for a breakdown of how they were calculated and why you have been charged that amount.
If you still feel your solicitor has incorrectly charged you or misled you about their fees, make an official complaint to the law firm you were using. All firms must publish their complaints procedure.
Making a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman
If after making a complaint there is still no satisfactory outcome, contact the Legal Ombudsman, an independent organisation that deals with law firms. If they agree you have been wrongly charged they can make the law firm either reduce or refund your legal fees.
Ask a court to examine your solicitors bill
If the above steps fail, you can ask a court to examine the legal bill. Be warned that this may incur further costs for you so you should get legal advice before going down this route.
5. My solicitors bill is higher than originally estimated, can I challenge it?
If you feel that the bill you have received from your solicitor is far greater than what was originally quoted or estimated then you can challenge their bill.
An estimate of the likely costs of providing professional services to you should be fairly accurate. However sometimes a solicitor may provide poor advice on the likely costs or provide negligent legal advice about the prospects of your case.
For example, a solicitor may initially have explained to you that your case was strong and would likely cost you £15,000 to handle the case, but then halfway through the costs changes to £75,000. As a result you as the client may not be able to afford the increased costs and have to withdraw your case with the possibility of incurring substantial costs.
You may be able to pursue a claim for professional negligence on the part of the solicitor if it can be shown that the estimate of costs they initially gave you could be considered negligent or that they failed to inform you of the increase in costs.
6. Can I get a court to examine my solicitors legal bill?
You can and this is referred to as “applying for a detailed assessment”.
There are further costs involved in going down this route, so you should get legal advice before proceeding. There are some very tight and strict timescales when applying for a detailed assessment.
If you ask within one month of getting the bill then the court must assess it. Between one month and a year, the court can decide itself whether it will assess the bill or not. After a year, a court will generally not assess a bill. If you have signed a Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA) then you can still get a court to assess the bill.
7. How do I know if my solicitor costs are excessive or reasonable?
Work carried out by solicitors which involves the courts has standard rates applied to it.
Other work that is not court related does not have standard rates applied. Did they provide you with an estimate at the outset, but now you have the final bill the total costs far exceed the initial figure quoted? Perhaps their invoice details work that you think they didn’t actually carry out?
You can ask for a break down of all costs in order to be sure they are reasonable and appropriate and the correct rates, where described, were applied.
8. How does White Dalton challenge solicitors costs?
Once you have decided that the legal bill you have from your solicitors seems excessive, call us and we will request your case file and an invoice breakdown from your solicitor.
Our legal costs experts will analyse the invoice in detail picking up any points where they have carried out work that is excessive and not fair or reasonable.
If you are looking to dispute the bill from your solicitors or would like to pursue a claim for solicitors negligence please contact us on 0800 783 6191