Top 5 Tips to Control Your Legal Fees
It is much easier to avoid excessive legal costs by controlling these from the outset rather than trying to complain about being overcharged at the end of a case.
1. When faced with a legal problem it is natural to simply go to a local firm of solicitors or one that has been recommended by a friend or family member. Often the decision is not based on how much the solicitor will charge compared with other firms. However, the cost of legal services can be as high, or higher, than buying a new car or even a house. It is therefore essential to know from the outset what you are likely to be charged and whether you can get better value for money elsewhere. The most expensive solicitors are not always the best. Do not be afraid to ask about legal fees at the outset and to shop around. For some legal services, such a conveyancing, there are online sites that allow you to obtain quotes from a large number of different solicitors before making your decision.
2. The best way to control what your solicitor charges is to agree a fixed fee. There are many types of work undertaken by solicitors, such as conveyancing, drafting a will or setting up a power of attorney, where it is normal for the fees to be fixed. Many types of lower value personal injury claims are also conducted on a fixed fee basis. There is no reason though why any type of claim should not be subject to a fixed fee. Traditionally, solicitors have disliked working on a fixed fee basis and claim that there are too many uncertainties, particularly in litigation (ie where a claim is being taken to court), to predict how much work will be required and what would therefore be a reasonable fixed fee. However, court rules now require solicitors in many litigated cases – including very complex matters – to produce detailed legal costs budgets for conducting the case. These budgets are then approved or adjusted by the court. There is therefore no reason why your solicitor cannot produce a similar budget for you at an early stage and agree a fixed fee based on this.
3. Even if you do not agree a fixed fee with your solicitor, they should still give you a clear estimate as to what the costs are going to be to handle your case until conclusion. You should insist on this at the very outset and ensure that it is entirely clear as to what this estimate covers and in what circumstances a final bill might be higher.
4. If your solicitor is charging you on an hourly rate basis, once work has started on your case make sure you minimise the amount of work your solicitor needs to do. If there are lots of documents that will need to be considered, provide these to your solicitor in a timely manner and with everything already carefully organised. If you drip feed these to your solicitor, with documents in a jumble, your solicitor may need to spend several hours just putting these into order. That time will be charged to you. Your solicitor will charge you for each telephone call, letter or email they make. Think carefully before contacting your solicitor and provide any information requested promptly. Repeated requests by you for updates or chase-up requests by your solicitor for information will unnecessarily add to the final bill.
5. Even when your solicitor has given you a clear estimate, once work begins you need to carefully monitor the level of costs that are actually being incurred. The initial written agreement with the solicitor should explain whether you will receive regular bills as the matter progresses. Nevertheless, you should insist on regular updates on the level of legal fees that are being incurred.
At CLF we can help you with each stage of the process.