Personal finance: How to tax your lawyer about the bill

Death, taxes and using the services of a solicitor are, for most of us, inevitable parts of life's cycle. The need for lawyers seems to exist at every serious juncture, whether buying a house, getting a divorce or making a will. But what happens if the price of that legal advice is too high? Ian Hunter investigates.

Unlike the Diana Memorial Fund, which received a bill for pounds 500,000 for legal services and felt it to be a perfectly respectable price to pay, some clients do not feel they are getting value for money.

Zoe Heatherington, of the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors, comments: "Last year we received about 22,000 complaints about solicitors' services: about 60 per cent of those complaints involved an element of costs in them, only 2 per cent related purely to the issue of costs. However, if a client is complaining about a substandard service, inevitably part of that complaint will be the amount paid for the service."

By contrast, Jackie Hewitt of the Consumers' Association, observes: "Complaints received by the Consumers' Association regarding solicitors regularly relate to the amount that they charge."

Solicitors are expected, in accordance with their written professional standards, to give clients at the outset an estimate of their likely charges. If this is not possible (for example, where a dispute might develop into a full court hearing) the solicitor should tell clients how the fee will be calculated.

Typically, solicitors charge on the basis of an hourly rate. Rates fluctuate widely, depending on the solicitor's experience, speciality and location. Some City solicitors are known to charge rates in excess of pounds 300.

If the solicitor does not volunteer such information the client should ask for an estimate of costs. If an estimate is not possible, an alternative is to set a cap on the level of fees that can be incurred by the solicitor. This will give the client an opportunity to review progress before chalking up further costs.

Those who are unhappy with their legal bill should take the issue up with the solicitor. The Office for the Supervision of Solicitors comments: "If you feel your solicitor is charging you too much, as a first step you should always let the firm know your concerns and ask to see or speak to someone who may be able to help you answer your questions."

Those who remain unhappy can still have their bill checked in one of two ways. The first route, which is available only when the legal work does not involve court proceedings, is to obtain a Remuneration Certificate from the Law Society. By this process, the Law Society will examine the solicitor's file on the matter and then review the client's bill to ensure that the fee is fair. The service is provided free of charge.

Two conditions must be satisfied before a Remuneration Certificate is granted. First, when the request is made, the bill must remain unpaid. If the solicitor has already deducted his costs from funds held on account for the client (typically this happens when a solicitor acts on the sale of a house), the bill will be treated as unpaid unless the client has given permission for the deduction.

Second, the request must be made by the client no more than a month after the solicitor makes the client aware of his right to a Remuneration Certificate. If the solicitor has not informed the client of the right to ask for a Remuneration Certificate the client can apply for one, provided no more than three months have passed since he received the bill and the solicitor has deducted his costs from money held on behalf of the client. Clients should write to their solicitors to ask them to apply for a Remuneration Certificate.

Once the client has asked for a Remuneration Certificate, the solicitor must complete an application form and forward it, together with the relevant file, to the Law Society. A client's demand for a Remuneration Certificate is a nightmare for a busy solicitor. Complying with such a request is a time-consuming exercise, for which a bill cannot be submitted.

The advantage for the client who opts for a Remuneration Certificate is that he has nothing to lose, apart from his solicitor's goodwill. The Law Society cannot authorise an increase in the bill even though it has the power to reduce it. The solicitor's only comfort is that after he has told his client of the right to obtain a Remuneration Certificate, he can charge interest on an outstanding bill backdated to one month after the date on which the bill was delivered.

The alternative method of checking whether a bill is reasonable is to ask for it to be "taxed" at a hearing, presided over by a court official. This procedure is the only way by which legal fees incurred in court proceedings can be vetted. The procedure can also be used for work that did not involve court proceedings.

At this hearing, the solicitor's aim is to defend his bill. He must convince the official that the time spent on the matter was reasonable and that any specific items of expenditure incurred were justifiable.

The advantage of taxation is that, unlike Remuneration Certificates, bills incurred in court proceedings can also be queried. The disadvantage is that if the bill is reduced by less than a fifth, the client will have to pay the solicitor's taxation hearing costs.

Office for the Supervision of Solicitors, helpline: 01926 822007/8/9; Remuneration Certificate enquiry line: 01926 822022; More information on taxation: 0171-936 6093.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE OVERCHARGED:

1. Ask for an estimate of fees at the outset or, at minimum, the solicitor's hourly charge out rate.

2. If unhappy with the bill, take it up with the firm of solicitors - if necessary the senior partner.

3. Consider asking the solicitor to apply for a Remuneration Certificate or have the bill taxed.

4. If you are unhappy generally with the service provided by your solicitor contact the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors.

Suggested Topics
Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
musicKate Bush asks fans not to take photos at London gigs
News
i100
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
O'Toole as Cornelius Gallus in ‘Katherine of Alexandria’
filmSadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Quantitative Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Web developer (C#, MVC4, HTML5, CSS3, Javascript, Jquery)

£30000 - £44000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Web deve...

Senior Automation QA Engineer (Java, Selenium WebDriver, Agile)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Senior A...

Web developer (C#.NET, ASP.NET, MVC3/4, HTML5, CSS3, JAVASCRIPT

£35000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Web deve...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment