Ten questions to ask your lawyer to make sure you won’t be overcharged

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If you’re going to use a solicitor, it’s worth asking lots of questions before you agree to use them. That way there should be fewer surprises when you get the bill. The Legal Ombudsman has produced a useful guide of ten questions to ask your lawyer:

1. Will I be charged for a consultation?

Some lawyers charge for the initial consultation while others offer this free of charge. Some lawyers charge for the initial consultation while others offer this free of charge. What’s important is that they tell you before you book.

2. How do you work out the costs?

Two lawyers may provide very different estimates for the same service (perhaps because one is far more experienced than the other or has higher overheads). The Legal Ombudsman Service recommends that you ask questions until you understand enough about the services on offer.

3. Do you charge an hourly rate or a fixed fee?

Lawyers have different ways of charging and some may charge in different ways for different services (for example, a fixed fee for writing a will but an hourly rate for other work).

‘No win, no fee’ arrangements (also called conditional fee arrangements or CFAs) still mean you may have to pay some costs — such as court fees – if you lose.

4. What is a fixed fee and what does it cover? Will I be charged for any other costs?

The term ‘fixed fee’ can be used in different ways and may just cover the lawyer’s own fee. Make sure you’re clear about exactly what’s covered and what you may have to pay for on top.

5. You charge an hourly rate but I’d like an estimate for the cost of the whole service. What will my final bill look like?

If your lawyer charges an hourly rate, they must give you an estimate of how much the overall service will be. The Legal Ombudsman Service says you’re entitled to ask the solicitor to set a limit on the costs, which means they should check that you are happy to continue if the costs approach the agreed threshold.

LEGAL OMBUDSMAN GUIDE TIP: Ask questions to understand exactly when the clock starts. For example, if you call your lawyer for an update on your case will you be charged for the call? Ask if, and how, your lawyer rounds up their charges. Many lawyers charge in six minute blocks — check if that’s how your lawyer works.

6. Could my costs change? How will you let me know if they do?

Don’t just ask how much the hourly rate is. Ask for an estimate of how many hours it will take and what’s included. Also ask what might cause it to change and see how likely the times you’ll be given a range for the costs, but this will help you budget and know where you stand.

LEGAL OMBUDSMAN GUIDE TIP: Cost changes may not always mean an increase. If an estimate was based on the chance that it might get complicated, but ends up being simpler than first thought, then the price should go down.

7. Are there any extra costs?

Your lawyer should tell you if there are any extras such as bank charges (for same day electronic transfer) or other charges you’ve not been told about. Your estimate should also
be inclusive of VAT.

8. Can I get help with the cost of my legal service?

A lawyer should always talk to you about how the service will be paid for and discuss options such as insurance or membership of a union that might help cover the costs.

If you receive benefits or are on a low income you might qualify for help that may reduce or cover all of your costs (such as Legal Aid).

9. When will I be billed and how long will I have to pay? Do you offer payment options?

A lawyer should give you clear information on their billing process and offer reasonable time for you to make payments. They should also let you know if there are penalty charges if you don’t pay on time. Lawyers aren’t obliged to offer you payment options, but some may be willing to negotiate.

LEGAL OMBUDSMAN GUIDE TIP: If your lawyer is holding any payments, they must be kept in a separate client account. You should be paid a fair and reasonable amount of interest on it.

10. What happens if I disagree with the amount I’ve been charged?

Your lawyer should tell you their approach to resolving billing disagreements. Every lawyer should have a complaints handling system in place, so find out how their system works.

Related articles:

Complaining about a solicitor

Understanding the inheritance tax allowance or nil rate band

When can you challenge a will – how can a will be contested?

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