We explained how the hourly rate charging method works and gave some tips on keeping costs down in our previous article: how to keep your legal fees as low as possible. Now, we will take a look at the items you are likely to see listed on your legal bill and explain what these actually are.

Jargon buster

Imagine you have just received your first bill for legal fees from your solicitor. You open it with a sense of trepidation, fully feeling the fear of the unknown! As you focus on the figures at the bottom of the page you are pleasantly surprised, it’s less than you thought. But, you don’t really understand how it got to that amount, the explanation given is fairly meaningless to you. In this article we will help you decode your legal bill by busting the jargon and setting out, in plain English, what it all means.

Most solicitors still charge according to the time spent on your case using the hourly rate method. Generally, clients ‘pay as they go’, with bills being sent periodically throughout a case.  If you are paying in this way you will find that the time spent working for you will be recorded by item. We explain what the phrases mean below:


Other than showing the amount which is payable, your legal bill will contain an explanation of what work your solicitor actually did. This won’t be overly detailed but, should be enough to give you an accurate picture of what your solicitor was doing. Depending on the time period covered by the bill it is likely to be no more than a short paragraph of text. This is referred to as the bill “narrative”. You can always request more detail of specific items from your solicitor who will have recorded detailed “time entries” from which the bill and narrative is generated.

Taking instructions

Instructions refers to the things you tell us. So, for example you will be giving us instructions when you tell us facts about what has happened to you so far in your initial a meeting with us. Equally, you will be giving us instructions if we agree the things you would like us to do for you during a telephone conversation.

Attendance note (or file note)

A solicitor will write an attendance note after a conversation with you or other relevant party (be that face to face or by phone). This then gets put on the file as a record of what was said. Attendance notes are therefore sometimes called file notes. This enables the solicitor to go back and check what was agreed/advised at that particular time, if necessary further down the line. Time spent drafting or dictating an attendance note will be chargeable.

Drafting correspondence/document/pleadings

This just means that we wrote a letter or email or put together a document for you. Depending on the nature of your matter this could be a variety of things such as a letter to your employer or a new clause for your employment contract. Pleadings refers to documents which are submitted to an employment tribunal or other court such as an initial application setting out your case (ET1).

Reviewing documentation/file

Essentially this means reading through the file or other documents. All relevant documentation must be read by a solicitor before they can give meaningful advice. All time spent reading will be chargeable.

Taking witness statement

In an employment tribunal cases there may be several witnesses, including the claimant themselves, whose evidence will be submitted in support of the client’s claim. This must be set out in a witness statement. Each witness must give a statement regarding the relevant matters. How this is written and what is and is not included is a highly technical matter. It will involve a solicitor firstly gathering all the information from the individual and then writing in such a manner as to comply with tribunal requirements and ensuring it is as helpful as it can be to the claimant’s case.

Work on file

This is a general phrase which covers various actions such as reading or drafting.


Contrary to common belief, solicitors don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of all law! Because new laws and regulations are being passed and new cases decided every day the law never stands still. Solicitors will therefore need to check points of law from time to time and this will be chargeable.


There are often various tactical issues to be thought about when a case involves negotiations or litigation. Solicitors will charge for this thinking time which may involve discussing best tactics with colleagues.


More junior solicitors will be supervised in all their matters by a partner or more senior solicitor to ensure quality and accuracy. In this way clients can benefit from the greater experience of the supervising solicitor. Reasonable time spent supervising on a matter is chargeable.

Instructing counsel

Counsel is another word for barrister. If a barrister is needed to represent you at a tribunal or court hearing, your solicitor will find a suitable barrister and book them on your behalf.  This involves explaining your claim to them, setting out events so far and providing the appropriate documents so that they can argue your case effectively.


These are extras payable by you on top of your solicitor’s fees. This could include barristers or other experts such as doctors’ fees, photocopying and court fees.


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