What will it cost me to get a lawyer?

There are a number of factors that dictate how much getting a lawyer to help you with your case will cost you. However, there are ways that your can keep a control of the costs of your case and this page includes tips on ways you can keep things under your control as opposed to the control of the lawyers.

Decide what you want your lawyer to do

It is not necessary to get a lawyer to do everything. Just like when you do stuff in your own home, you might not get an electrician to come and change a plug because your are perfectly capable of doing that yourself. Even if you had never replaced a plug before you would feel fairly confident looking it up on the web or in book. On the other hand, if you wanted your house re-wired, it would be stupid, dangerous and illegal not to get an electrician to do it. That does not mean to say that you could not do some of the work yourself - the preparation, perhaps channelling out the plater work for the cables, buying the material etc - all of which would keep your costs down because you would only be using the electrician for the bits that require the expertise and experience.

In the same way, there are ways of getting lawyers to help you with specific parts of a case - for example the advocacy or getting some initial advice to see what you need to do or ask for. You may be able to do other parts yourself, such a writing statements or gathering evidence.

Lawyers are going to have to get used to a more flexible way of working, with clients doing some of the leg work in order to keep costs down. Nowadays, for example, it would be possible to make an application for access to a child by filling in the forms yourself, preparing a statement yourself and just asking a Barrister or Solicitor to represent you at the hearing - which is likely to be much cheaper than getting a solicitor to do the application, write all the letters etc.

Ask for a clear indication of costs before hand

Whilst it is not always possible to predict how a case will go especially as the other side will have a lot to do with that, it should be possible to be clear about what each element of the case will cost you. So, for example, ask your lawyer for a 'menu' of what they will charge. Many solicitors and barristers will give you a 'fixed' price for doing certain things - for example, £300 to fill in the application and prepare the first statement in support of the application. £500 to represent you at the first hearing etc. These type of 'fixed fees' will become more and more popular as time goes on.

Of course, fixed fees will mean you get a fixed service. If suddenly your case becomes more complicated or goes on longer than agreed, it is likely you will have to negotiate the next stages. Likewise, if you agree a fixed fee and it only takes half an hour to sort out,

Set a limit

There is nothing wrong with saying to a lawyer - I have X pounds to spend - what will that buy me or I do not want you to spend more than X pounds without you getting my permission.

Ask for regular and detailed updates on the costs a clear indication if there are any things on the horizon that will bump the bill up.

Hourly rates

Many lawyers work on hourly rates. These vary hugely. You should always ask what the hourly rate is and what and who you get for that. Make sure you get what you pay for. In other words, if you meet a partner in the solicitors' firm who tells you that his or her rate is £150 per hour, you do not want a trainee turning up to represent you at a hearing and still be charged £150 per hour. Generally speaking, the more experienced and senior the lawyer representing you is, the more you will pay per hour. If you want a 'gold plated' service and can afford it, there is nothing wrong with paying an hourly rate for a senior lawyer but it can get very expensive very quickly. You should speak to any lawyer your are considering using about what your case needs - you would not hire an expensive four-wheel-drive vehicle to drive 20 miles down the motor way, when you could do with a small family car. Likewise, you do not need a £150 an hour lawyer to argue about who keeps the dining room table after a divorce.

Be careful what you do

Never forget that if you are paying an hourly rate for a lawyer then every time your lawyer speaks or writes to you, you pay. Every time your lawyer speaks or writes to the other side, you pay for it. If you ring your lawyer every day, you will quickly find the bill mounting up. If you ask your lawyer to write to the other side every time they do the slightest thing you do not agree with, you will find the bill mounting up very quickly.

Even if you are on a fixed fee agreement, you will only get a certain amount of service for that fee. Be clear from the beginning what the fixed fee covers and what it does not.

Get advice early

This may sound like a 'make work' scheme for lawyers. It is not, I promise. I have been involved in too many cases that have ended up costing more than they ever needed to because realistic or reasonable advice was not sought or given in the first place. A few pound spent early on getting advice from a good, experienced lawyer may save lots of money later on. People have a lot of misconceptions about the law and what the likely outcome will be. Getting advice early is likely to let you know whether what you want is achievable, what the chances of success are and what it is worth arguing about.

And finally...

The key is transparency and honesty. You can expect to demand honesty from your lawyer about how much he or she is costing you and in what circumstances those costs are likely to go up. Use your common sense, if your lawyer is spending hours writing letters, making phone calls or being in court on your behalf, then you are likely to get a big bill. If you are careful and clear about what you want, then it is much more likely that you will get will pay a fair price for a fair amount of work.

It cuts both ways, however. If you do not tell you lawyer the whole story or worse, lie to them, you cannot moan if your case goes wrong and ends up costing you more money because they did not have the full picture.

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