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Knowing how much a legal bill will be

PUBLISHED: 08:01 01 March 2019 | UPDATED: 17:18 04 March 2019

A legal firm can talk clients through the various scenarios of their case and the anticipated fees.Picture Getty Images

A legal firm can talk clients through the various scenarios of their case and the anticipated fees.Picture Getty Images

Archant

Need a solicitor but worried how much it will cost? New rules mean legal firms have to publish prices for some of their work.

Ed O'Rourke, CEO at Ashtons Legal. Picture submittedEd O'Rourke, CEO at Ashtons Legal. Picture submitted

The fear of being landed with an unexpectedly large legal bill should be over now law firms have to make their fees clear.

New price transparency rules that came into effect in December mean regulated law firms must make the prices they charge clear.

Having to make fees clear means that different legal firms can be compared by people trying to choose the right solicitor - although prices for cheap solicitors or more expensive solicitors are not an indication of the quality of service offered.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority introduced the rules to improve public access to legal services by making sure easy-to-understand information on those providing legal services is easily available.

The cost of legal fees for some work has to be made clear before work starts. Picture Getty ImagesThe cost of legal fees for some work has to be made clear before work starts. Picture Getty Images

Its research discovered that small businesses think solicitor firms are more expensive than is really the case and that firms would be a more attractive option if they published prices.

The rules cover some, but not all, services provided by law firms. Information on fees charged, and what this price includes, has to be shown to the public for: conveyancing (the legal and admin work involved with buying a house), probate, motoring offences, employment tribunals (claims for unfair or wrongful dismissal) and immigration (excluding asylum).

Pricing strategies for legal fees for small businesses have to be easily available for debt recovery (up to £100k), employment tribunals (defending claims for unfair or wrongful dismissal) and licensing applications for business premises.

Plus law firms must also outline typical timescales for the quoted services and give details of the experience and qualifications of staff who work in these areas.

Some law firms offer a free or fixed fee initial meeting. Picture Getty ImagesSome law firms offer a free or fixed fee initial meeting. Picture Getty Images

The aim is that people will know how much it will cost to have a solicitor and approximately how long it will take before any work is done.

If the final bill is higher than a client expected, they can go to the legal ombudsman who may rule that they pay what they were quoted, not the final bill.

Not all legal firms are following the rules, but it’s a good start, says Ed O’Rourke, CEO of Ashtons Legal.

“It should give clients a clear indication of cost and timescale before work starts,” he says.

People can now ensure they know the cost of many elements of legal work before they sign on the dotted line and employ a solicitor. Picture Getty ImagesPeople can now ensure they know the cost of many elements of legal work before they sign on the dotted line and employ a solicitor. Picture Getty Images

“There are some price comparison websites so you can compare not just price but the service, but it can be very difficult to compare,” he says, pointing out that firms may deal with cases such as messy divorces or probate differently.

But outlining solicitors fees will help people to know if they want to proceed with legal action.

He says legal firms should make costs clear before they start work: “You should also be advised as to timescales, merits and commerciality of your matter and, if appropriate, that you may not get the outcome you want.”

A good solicitor will be able to help the client decide if a matter is worth pursuing and what it could cost, both in fees and time and emotional cost.

Before employing a solicitor or other legal expert to help, ensure you know what the cost will be.  Picture Getty ImagesBefore employing a solicitor or other legal expert to help, ensure you know what the cost will be. Picture Getty Images

Free legal advice is less common than it used to be, says Ed, but some solicitors will offer a free initial consultation or a fixed fee meeting to help clients decide the next step.

“Legal aid is getting tougher and tougher to come by and we are getting to the point where there is a greater reliance on places like the Citizen’s Advice Bureau or other charitable organisations,” he says.

Fees vary depending on who is doing the work too, says Ed, explaining that ‘lawyer’ is a generic term to cover anyone working in a legal team; solicitors, paralegals, barristers and so on.

Ed says people should asks for fees to be explained in advance so they know exactly what they are paying for, whether they need a solicitor or legal advice for probate, house buying or selling and writing wills or family law, divorce and personal injury claims.

Those unhappy with their legal bills, or service, and want to dispute solicitors fees, should first complain to their legal firm and, if they are not satisfied with the response, to the legal ombudsman.

Write to the Legal Ombudsman at Edward House, Quay Place, Birmingham B1 2RA.

Thanks to Ed O’Rourke, CEO of Ashtons Legal at www.ashtonslegal.co.uk for help compiling this article.

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