One of key factors when buying legal advice will be the cost.
Legal services can be complex and the final cost can depend on things such as the type of service, individual details of the case, and how events develop. The expertise and experience of the lawyer may also affect costs too.
As a client, you have the right to expect your legal adviser to be clear about how much they are likely to charge you, and for the final bill to be clearly explained and in the range you expected.
In all instances, your lawyer should provide you with clear information about costs. Even if things get complicated, your legal adviser should make you aware to avoid any surprises in the final bill.
It’s also important to understand if there will be more than the legal adviser’s fees to pay. There may also be expenses such as court fees and VAT, and if you are suing someone, you will also need to consider how you would pay for the other side’s legal costs if your case is unsuccessful.
This means asking an adviser questions about their fees, legal costs, expenses and funding options before they start work so that you are clear what you will have to pay and when.
Depending on your circumstances and the type of problem you need help with, there may be different funding options available to help you pay for legal services. Discussing payment options and terms can help you to maintain control of costs and your funding liabilities.
Funding options for legal services include:
With legal aid, some or all of the legal costs are covered for you. Legal aid is available only in very limited circumstances, including civil cases such as family, housing and debt problems.
You will need to show you are eligible for legal aid by giving details of your income, benefits, savings and property, and those of your partner. You may also need to give evidence about the problem you’re facing.
Even where you do qualify for legal aid, it may not cover the full extent of the legal fees, meaning you may also have to pay some of the costs up-front or pay back some of the legal costs out of any money or property you are awarded from the case.
Free legal advice if you’ve been arrested
If you’ve been arrested by the police, you are entitled to free legal advice while you are in custody.
You have the right to contact a solicitor, who may be your own lawyer, or for the police to arrange a duty solicitor to attend and give you advice for free.
If you are charged and think you might qualify for criminal legal aid for help with defending your case, you should ask your legal adviser.
Free legal advice
In some circumstances, you may be able to get free advice to help with your problem.
Many solicitors offer a free initial consultation to discuss your case and your options. This can help to clarify your position and what you want to do next. You should confirm with the lawyer that there will be no charge and if there is no obligation to instruct them following the consultation.
Other firms and organisations, such as local law centres, run ‘pro bono’ schemes, where they offer free legal advice, usually to people in their community who need but cannot afford professional legal help.
It’s worth checking if you qualify for help with legal expenses through any existing insurance policies you have, such as your household or car insurance.
There are generally two types of legal insurance. ‘Before the event’ insurance covers certain types of events that are prescribed within your insurance policy. Your insurer will usually have preferred legal advisers in place who will take on your case for you.
‘After the event’ insurance is where you take out the policy after something has happened which has caused you to need to legal advice, such as a car accident, to help pay for your legal fees and the other party’s legal costs if you are held liable. If your case is successful, the other party will usually pay the ATE premium.
No win, no fee
For certain types of legal work, some lawyers may offer their services on a ‘no win no fee’ basis.
Commonly used in personal injury claims, no win no fee, or condition fee arrangements (CFAs) as they are also known, mean that you will only be liable to pay the legal fees if you win your case. The fees would then usually be taken out of any compensation you are awarded, and cannot be more than 25% of what you receive.
Contingency fee agreement
In the same way as a no win no fee arrangement, a contingency fee arrangement means you are only responsible for paying the legal fees if you win. The lawyer is then usually awarded a percentage of your compensation.
If you are funding the cost of the service yourself, you should take steps to stay in control and fully aware of all the costs as they accrue.
Some services may be available for a fixed fee, such as buying a house, or a capped fee, where the lawyer can’t exceed a certain amount without telling you.
While fixed and even capped fees may be preferable, often they are not possible due to the nature of the work, particularly if it is too complex and unpredictable to set a fixed or capped fee at the beginning. In these cases, it is still worth asking for an estimate to give you some indication of likely final cost and to help if you are comparing with other advisers.
Lawyers have a duty to provide you with a client care letter when you appoint them. This letter should clearly explain the costs for the service and any terms and conditions that may affect the final price. Should you have any cost-related questions, don’t be afraid to ask.
You should also make sure you understand how often you will receive a bill and the time scale for settling it.
Paying by instalments
One option if self-funding could be to ask if you can make payments by instalments. You should check whether there will be any additional charge for paying in this way.
Sometimes an arrangement to pay for legal costs by instalments creates a consumer credit agreement between you and the law firm. If there is a consumer credit agreement, and the firm is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the firm must follow the SRA’s rules on consumer credit.
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