If you instruct a solicitor, you will principally be concerned with two things – his competence and the costs. Even if you “do it yourself”, you have to weigh up whether the claim is worth the aggravation involved and the time expended.
You are unlikely to be concerned with legal costs, if you have legal aid or legal insurance. Included in legal costs are disbursements, such as court fees or experts’ fees; provided you win your case, these disbursements are recoverable.
Assuming you are not covered by legal aid or legal insurance, you would do well to read on about legal costs. Unless your claim is a small claim, each side, win or lose, has to pay its own cost. Costs used to be “taxed” but now they are “assessed”. Costs are assessed by costs judges or trial judges.
Costs are important for three reasons. First, is the outlay of legal costs worth the amount at stake – it’s a bit like gambling; you have to weigh up the odds! Secondly, if you lose, you may well have to pay the other (winning) party’s costs – but even here you may well be able to challenge the amount of legal costs being claimed against you. Thirdly, even if you win, you may not be entitled to all the legal costs claimed by you or your solicitor on your behalf either because the other party is impecunious or because your legal costs are not favourably assessed. Your solicitor may be entitled to more costs than you can recover from the other party.
So once you have chosen your lawyer – presumably because you believe he is competent to do your case, you should ensure that there is a satisfactory agreement about your own legal costs. Your lawyer is likely to be equally concerned. Solicitors are obliged to have a complaints system in place, which includes complaints about legal costs. No lawyer is entitled to charge you for explaining his bill or for outlining the legal costs he is charging you. Any legitimate inquiry about legal costs should be dealt with free of charge. If you have complained unsuccessfully about the legal costs of your own solicitor, the matter does not end there, as you can complain to the Legal Complaints Service or Legal Ombudsman and Office of Legal Complaints. You may also have the legal costs claimed by your solicitor assessed under Part III of the Solicitors Act 1974.
If you complain about legal costs, he may well not wish to act for you but he cannot terminate his retainer without reasonable notice so you will not be left in the lurch!
The above is not a full account of all legal costs situations but only a brief explanation of the most important aspect of legal costs; for instance we have not mentioned conditional fees or contingency fees or described the difference between contentious and non-contentious costs or matters, which latter are defined in s.87 of the Solicitors Act 1974. Laurence Kingsley voluntarily subscribes to all the above obligations.
Have you been to a solicitor and received a large bill for legal costs? They may not be recoverable from you. Laurence Kingsley has frequently dealt with these situations and may well be able to simplify things for you and assist you to obtain a substantial or complete saving!