Following on from our article: the solicitor’s hourly rate explained we have put together a few hints and tips for keeping your legal bill as reasonable as possible and getting the best value from your solicitor.
Charging according to the time spent on your matter using the hourly rate method is still the most common way that law firms charge for their services. This means, to put it bluntly, time is money. The more hours that your solicitor spends on your case, the more you will be charged.
A solicitor will charge you for everything they do which is related to your case. This will include:
- speaking to you on the phone
- reading and responding to your emails
- reading documentation which you have provided
- researching legal issues
- drafting letters/emails on your behalf
- speaking to your employer and/or their lawyers
- instructing a barrister on your behalf
Choosing a firm
It may be appealing to go to a firm who can offer you a very low hourly rate. Generally this will be because a junior member of the team (who will have the lowest hourly rate) will work on your case. This can be a false economy however as you will have to factor in the additional time it will take them to do things, the additional research they will need to do, and the fact that they will need to be supervised by someone more senior.
A more experienced solicitor (with a higher hourly rate) will instinctively be able to advise you, having seen similar cases in the past, and could ultimately end up providing you with better value because they can get the result you want more quickly.
Before you choose your law firm, we would recommend asking some searching questions, such as:
- Is the person dealing with my case the most appropriate level of experience?
- Will my lawyer need supervision and how will this be paid for?
- How do you record time? Do you start the clock again for different activities, or do you keep it running during all your activities for me?
- Can you assure me that my lawyer will work on my matter without interruption or distraction? What policies do you have in place to ensure this happens.
- Exactly what does your estimate include and what is not included? Are there any caveats?
Get an estimate
Always ask your solicitor for an estimate of how long they think a particular piece of work will take. It may not be possible for them to predict a long way in advance (as they won’t know exactly how the matter will progress) but they should be able to break down individual bits of work such as drafting a document and give you an expected price for this. An estimate is a best guess, it is not the same thing as a fixed quote. Matters can always take an unexpected turn which means they take longer and cost more. However, if the estimate looks like being significantly wrong then your solicitor should inform you of this as soon as they can.
In some cases, or for some pieces of work, your solicitor may be able to offer you a fixed fee (you know in advance what it will cost and this will not change) or, a capped fee (where you will not pay more than a given maximum price but may pay less if the work takes less time). It may not always be possible to predict the amount of time that will be spent on your matter, or any particular stage of it, so such arrangements may not always be agreed. However, it is always worth asking if a fixed fee arrangement is available.
What the client can do to help
The more efficiently your solicitor uses their time, the less time they spend on your matter, the less you will be charged.
Note that we have to review all correspondence and documentation which we receive from you. Before we can give you meaningful advice we will need to understand all the facts of your case. It can take a considerable amount of time to “read-in” to complex matters where there is extensive documentation. Clients are sometimes surprised that they need to pay for this preparatory work but, this is vital to being able to provide quality assistance to clients and will be chargeable.
While no solicitor will want to “cut corners”, there are things you can do to cut down on charges for unnecessary time. For example:
- avoid making excessive telephone calls or emails to your solicitor
- try and stick to the point and be as succinct as possible on the phone and in your correspondence. For example, make a list of things you want to cover before you call and put everything relevant down in one email rather than sending several different emails
- if you have documentation which your solicitor is going to need to review, make sure this is clearly labelled and in chronological order before you give it to them
- come prepared and with any relevant documentation when you attend meetings
- relevant documents which your solicitor is likely to need to review will include: your employment contract and any documents referred to in it, relevant staff policies, your most recent pay slip, your draft settlement agreement (if you have been given one), copies of any relevant emails
- ideally, send through any questions you want answered at your meeting, in advance
- it can be really helpful to put together a time line of events, a list of relevant people involved and/or summary of the matter to date where there are lots of facts that your solicitor will need to get to grips with
- if your solicitor is helping you to negotiate it can be helpful to give your solicitor a first draft of correspondence which they can check and amend where necessary, rather than asking them to draft it for you from scratch
- don’t be afraid to ask if there are other things you can do yourself to keep charges down