Legal fees

Costs are important to everyone and you should ask your solicitor at the first meeting how much you are likely to have to pay in total for his or her services. Most solicitors will try to give you the best estimate they can and will tell you how the bills are worked out. Your solicitor will confirm either the estimate or the basis on which the fees will be charged in writing.

A reasonable fee will take account of:

  • the amount of work and the time involved (including how complicated, difficult or novel the matter is)
  • the level of specialised knowledge, responsibility and supervision needed
  • the length, number and importance of any documents which need to be prepared or read
  • the place and circumstances in which the work is done
  • the urgency of the case
  • the amount of money or value of any property involved

The Law Society does not set guidelines for fees. Each firm charges what it believes is appropriate.

Some solicitors charge a fixed fee for the whole job, others charge according to how much time they actually spend doing the work for you (this includes time spent with you, so remember that you will be adding to the final bill each time you contact your solicitor).

Remember that a solicitor will not always be able to tell you exactly how much the work is going to cost. However, if the final bill varies from the estimate, he or she should give you an explanation. Once the solicitor has started work on your case, if it looks as if the work will cost more than the estimate, the solicitor will contact you in advance to let you know so that you can decide what you want to do.

If you are concerned about the costs, you should agree a fixed spending limit with your solicitor at your first meeting. If that limit is reached, the solicitor will then contact you before doing any more work on your behalf.

It is also worth considering whether or not to ask your solicitor to send you bills on a regular basis (for instance, monthly). This might help you to budget if you are concerned about receiving a large bill once the work has been done. Also, it is not uncommon for solicitors to ask clients to pay some money in advance or before the work is complete to cover their costs. Sometimes your solicitor will have to pay other expenses (outlays), eg for medical reports, court fees or registration fees. So, when budgeting, remember that you will also be responsible for these costs.

In some situations, you may have to pay the other side's legal bills as well as your own. Your solicitor should advise whether or not this is likely and, if so, how much the charges are likely to be.

If you raise a successful court action and the opponent is ordered to pay your expenses, you may still have to pay some fees to your solicitor. This is because court (or judicial) expenses are calculated on a different rate from the fees charged by solicitors to their clients. Your solicitor may ask you to pay the difference, although you may agree with your solicitor at the outset that he or she will accept the fees that can be recovered (see no win no fee cases below).

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Legal aid

If you are getting legal aid and you are awarded compensation by the court or are due money because your case is settled, your solicitor must send the settlement cheque to the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB). SLAB will then deducts what your solicitor is owed before sending the balance back to your solicitor for you.

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No win no fee cases

Solicitors in Scotland may also act on a speculative basis - charging no fee unless the matter is successful. This is often referred to as acting on a no win no fee basis. This is mainly relevant to court actions although it is also done regularly in house sales (no sale no fee).

If you pursue a no win no fee case and you are unsuccessful, you will usually be liable for your opponent's legal expenses, and your own solicitor's outlays, but not their fees. To protect against this risk you may take out insurance before commencing a no win no fee case.

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Querying the fee

If you wish to challenge the amount that you have been charged, you should discuss the matter with your solicitor or the firm's client relations partner.

You may wish to ask how the fee has been calculated. Your solicitor should give you a summary of the work done for you and how the charges are worked out, free of charge.

You can ask for a detailed breakdown of the invoice which describes each letter, the time spent by each person who worked on your file and each phone call but the solicitor is entitled to charge for preparing this.

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Independent scrutiny

If you remain unhappy with the amount charged, you can have the solicitor's account independently scrutinised. This is called the 'taxation' of the account or of the fees and is carried out by an auditor of court. Please see below for further information.

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Taxation by auditor of court

The auditor will examine all the relevant paperwork and decide what the correct costs should be. The auditor does not look at whether the service provided was adequate. Part of signing up to use an auditor means accepting that his decision is binding. If you wish to use the services of an auditor then you should ask your solicitor to make the necessary arrangements. Going to the auditor of court does not mean raising a court action or payment of any kind of tax. Only a small number of auditors of court are now permitted to carry out such taxations.

If you wish, you can attend a hearing before the auditor to put forward your views. You should tell your solicitor when you request a taxation that you would like to have a hearing and they will include this information with the papers sent to the auditor. The auditor or solicitor will advise you of the date and time of the hearing.

The cost of using an auditor is usually 3% or 4% of the final amount. If the auditor finds that your solicitor's invoice was excessive, your bill from the solicitor will be reduced and the solicitor will have to pay the auditors' costs; if the auditor finds that your solicitor's invoice was reasonable then you are likely to be asked to pay his or her fee as well as the original solicitor's bill.

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Determination of legal fees

The Law Society of Scotland has a Legal Fees Determination Scheme in which a fee determination certificate will be issued in each case. The solicitor and client will both be obliged to sign a binding contract with the Society agreeing to meet the adjudicator's fee, including any cancellation fee and the cost of any appeal.

As with taxation, the adjudicator will (a) examine all the relevant paperwork; (b) decide whether to hold a hearing or deal with the matter by written submissions (including email); and (c) determine what the correct costs should be. He or she will have some discretion to decide whether the cost of the certificate is to be met by the solicitor or the client or both of them, but the threshold for the client being successful will be the higher of £300 or 10% of the account.

The maximum that the adjudicator may charge for the certificate will be the higher of £100 or 5% of the amount of the account.

There will be a cancellation fee, payable by the parties equally, if a hearing which has been fixed is cancelled less than seven days beforehand. The cancellation fee will be 50% of the normal charge based on the amount of the account as rendered by the solicitor.

Either party has a right of appeal to the Auditor of the Court of Session against the adjudicator's decision in the certificate, but not on a decision to allow or refuse an oral hearing. Who pays the cost of the appeal will be decided by the auditor at his sole discretion.

Please note that the Legal Fees Determination Scheme has been withdrawn and is currently under review.  Accordingly the Scheme is not operating and this part of the guidance is suspended until further notice.

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Complaints about the solicitor's service

If you feel the service provided by the solicitor was inadequate then you should discuss it with the solicitor or the firm's client relations partner. If the matter is still unresolved then you should contact the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) on 0131 201 2130.

The SLCC is the single gateway for all complaints about solicitors.

For further information regarding the complaints process, please see Making a complaint against a solicitor.

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