It is a solicitor's responsibility to keep you informed of costs and to give you a clear bill which shows the work done and the amount charged. It may be that you will be eligible for publicly funded assistance.
Getting free help
You may be entitled to free help under the Legal Aid Scheme.
If you do not qualify for free legal aid, it may be possible to arrange for a solicitor to act for you as part of pro bono work. This is work which a solicitor carries out without charging a fee. This work is done by many solicitors as a service to the community to ensure access to justice for the less well off. For more information about pro bono work see the LawWorks website, which is run by the Solicitors Pro Bono Group.
The Legal Services Commission is responsible for the Community Legal Service, which funds non-criminal (civil) cases, and the Criminal Defence Service, which funds advice and representation for people facing criminal charges. These funded services are only available from solicitors or advice agencies who are contracted with the Legal Services Commission. This means they have been checked to make sure they meet certain standards and provide good service.
How do I qualify for legal aid?
For civil matters, you may qualify for free legal advice and assistance if you meet certain financial eligibility criteria, and if your case is of a type covered by the legal aid scheme. If you do not meet this criteria you may be asked to pay a contribution towards your legal advice.
In criminal matters, legal advice and representation at the police station is free to everyone. In the magistrates court advice and representation is free if the case is judged to be serious; other assistance is means tested. You may be asked to pay a contribution to your legal advice cost if your case progresses to the Crown Court.
For more information on the legal aid scheme and on how to apply for legal aid, visit the Legal Services Commission site.
Your solicitor's bill
All bills should show you the dates between which the work was done and enough information for you to decide whether the bill is reasonable. Sometimes your solicitor will accompany the bill with a print out of a computer time record or work summary. If you want more information you may request a bill containing detailed items within three months of receiving a summary bill. This will then replace the summary bill and may be for more.
Working out your solicitor's charges
The ways in which charges are worked out differ depending on whether your legal work has been contentious (with court proceedings) or non-contentious (with no court proceedings). In both cases your solicitor's bill should contain enough information for you to see what work has been done and what you are being charged for so that you can decide whether to get your bill checked.
Bills for contentious work
If the work involved a court case, your solicitor can send you either a brief summary of costs (called a gross sum bill) or a bill containing detailed items. If you receive a summary, you may ask for a bill containing detailed items within three months. However, you cannot ask for this if your solicitor has already started to sue you for the money. If you ask for a bill containing detailed items, it will replace the original summary and can be for more or less than the summary.
Bills for non-contentious work
Non-contentious work is work that has not involved the courts, but may involve some tribunals. Your solicitor may be prepared to give you more detail of the work that has been done, if you ask.
Getting your bill checked
If your bill is for contentious or non-contentious work you may get your bill checked by the court. This is called assessment. There are rules about the time when you can use this procedure and the procedure to follow. You can find out more about getting your bill checked on the Adviceguide website.
If you are unhappy with your bill
If you are unhappy with your solicitor's bill you can complain to the solicitor who will consider the complaint via their complaints handling procedure.
If you have a complaint about a bill for non-contentious work which is linked to poor service and this complaint has not been resolved by the solicitor you can make a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman.