FAQ



I need legal advice. How can I contact you?

For a quotation for advice about a legal matter concerning land, send me an email explaining the background and attaching any key documents (for example a plan of the land concerned). You don’t need to give all the details and all the documents in this initial email, just a summary. However if you do decide that you want to provide more than five documents with your initial enquiry, the best way to do this is using MEGA. 

Note: I myself practise in civil law, especially land law. Other barristers practise in other areas of law. See here for an introduction to the kinds of matters barrister may be able to help with. 


Should I seek legal advice now or should I wait?

If you have received a notification that legal proceedings have been started (or a notification from the Land Registry that someone has made an application which might affect your land) then you should seek legal advice from a qualified lawyer, such as a barrister, without delay. Often there will be quite a limited time period for you to respond and often your response will limit the legal arguments you are subsequently allowed to put forward in your defence, so do not delay seeking legal advice.

Similarly if you have received a letter threatening to start legal proceedings, you should seek immediate legal advice. 

If the situation is that legal proceeding have not been threatened or started, the best advice is that, If you are in any doubt, you should seek legal advice from a barrister now. The law, in many cases, imposes time limits which mean that if you have a legal claim which is otherwise valid, you may lose your rights if you do not start court/tribunal proceedings, or send a notice to another party, or take some other action, by a certain deadline. Even if you do not lose your rights completely, sometimes delay can mean that a court is less willing to exercise its discretion in your favour, or delay may cause practical problems in, for example, tracing witnesses, or obtaining documents held by other parties which may, for example, be automatically destroyed after a certain period. It is true that in some other cases the best advice may be, on the contrary, to let sleeping dogs lie and not take any immediate action (apart from keeping a record of events) as in certain circumstances allowing a situation to continue over a period of time can strengthen your legal case. However you will not know whether this applies to your case unless and until you seek legal advice. If you seek advice earlier than (as it turns out) you needed to, nothing is lost, whereas if you delay, there is the possibility that opportunities might be lost.


What fees do you charge

Fixed Fees

The types of work which barristers do fall into four broad categories

1. Conference – meeting with you to discuss a matter face-to-face - nearly always followed by an initial written Opinion. In a matter concerning land the conference will usually include visiting the land with you.

2. Written Opinion – a barrister’s assessment of how the law applies to a given situation and the likelihood of winning any litigation.

3. Drafting legal documents such as Claim Forms, pleadings, and Applications. A barrister may also draft crucial letters – such as a letter before action - but barristers do not handle routine correspondence (you need to engage a solicitor as well if you require assistance with routine correspondence).
 
4. Representing you in a court or tribunal hearing.

The fee for each piece of work which you ask me to carry out will normally be a fixed fee (rather than an hourly charge). A fixed fee quote is based on how much time I think the piece of work will probably take me but remains fixed even if it turns out to take me longer than expected. 

In the case of written Opinions and drafting other documents (2 and 3 above), you identify what you would like me to read – e.g. your written account of what you remember and documents from the past – letters, emails, agreements etc. – which are relevant. I then look very briefly at what you have provided in order to estimate how many hours the work is likely to take me and a fixed fee is quoted on that basis. Most clients store documents on cloud storage or on the Caselines DCS system (rather than sending large numbers of documents by email). The advantage of this is that when they ask me to do the next piece of work they can just provide me with access again – highlighting any new documents to be considered. 

In some cases there are not many documents (letters, emails etc.) so you could ask me to read them all when providing a written Opinion, but in most cases there are quite a number of documents and in order to keep fees to a reasonable level you need to decide which documents are relevant for me to consider. This can be a bit of catch 22 situation – you need some legal context in order to decide even what documents might be relevant, but I need to see some documents and have some information in order to provide that legal context. This is where a Conference (1 above) is particularly helpful. At the conference I will be asking you questions and, depending on your answers, looking at particular documents. Because you are likely to be familiar with them you are likely to be able to quickly turn to documents (either documents you have loaded up to cloud storage in advance, or perhaps some paper documents you have, or documents on your laptop computer, which you have not yet loaded to cloud storage but can load to cloud storage immediately after the conference if they are identified as relevant) if I ask you questions like “when was such and such first mentioned?”. It is an iterative process with me forming a provisional view on the legal context, asking you for further information – or to point to further documents – and then revising the provisional view as more information is considered. The purpose is not to give a definitive legal opinion there and then at the conference but rather to identify a set of documents – up to a pre-agreed maximum number of pages - which I would need to study when drafting a written Opinion immediately after the conference. The fee for the conference, followed by a written Opinion, is a fixed fee based on the pre-agreed maximum duration of the conference (typically 2 hours with an hour allowed for some pre-reading before the conference) and a pre-agreed maximum number of pages to be studied when writing the Opinion. In virtually every case involving land it is essential to view the land, so a conference/site visit is arranged even if there are only a small number of documents to look at.

In the case of representation at a hearing (4 above) the documents I will need to read to prepare are identified and from that I estimate how much preparation time I am likely to need. A fixed Brief Fee can then be quoted which covers both preparation and representation on the first day of the hearing. If the hearing is expected to last more than a day then a Refresher Fee will also be quoted which will apply to each extra day that the hearing lasts after the first day.

The fixed-fee system is liked by clients and generally works well providing each side acts reasonably. For example if when I come to study the documents identified at the conference (when writing an Opinion) I find that some documents refer to additional documents I don't mind looking in the cloud storage folder provided by the client for those further documents even if that means that the total number of pages I am considering exceeds the agreed maximum of  by a modest margin but if it turns out to be a complex paperchase with each document found referring to multiple other documents then I would need either to charge a further fee - if I am to follow the trail to its logical conclusion and study all documents found in detail - or else stick to the original fee and caveat my Opinion (i.e. leave the matters I have not looked fully into as open questions in my Opinion). Also, at the time when a fixed fee for a piece of work is quoted I am obviously not studying the documents you have provided in detail and I am, to a certain extent, relying on the general description of the legal issue as set out by you when you first made your enquiry (or as identified at the time of the last Opinion which I drafted if I have already provided an initial written Opinion) and if it turns out, when I come to study the documents, that there is some "googly" buried in some document which opens up a whole new vista of enquiry (such as the mention of an additional piece of land when you have asked me to advise about a particular piece of land) then again I may have to give you the choice of either paying an extra fee and having me look at that additional issue in depth or else of my not dealing with that extra issue and keeping to the original fee, and this is so even if buried away somewhere in the explanation, chronological account, detailed questions, or any documents which you may have provided me with, before the Client Care Letter was sent, there is mention somewhere of this additional issue. In some rare cases the issues may be so connected that it is difficult to deal with the expected issue without also considering in detail the unexpected issue which has emerged. In such cases I may give you the option of either paying a further fee or else having a refund of the fee you have paid and not having an Opinion at all.


Most clients prefer the certainty of fixed fees and this is normally how most pieces of work are charged for. However there are a few circumstances where a fixed fee for a piece of work is not possible. For example if there is litigation (court or tribunal proceedings) then, at some stage before the trial, it will be necessary for a witness statement to be drafted dealing with all the live issues in the case (shorter witness statements may have been made earlier on dealing with some specific matter such as the need for an interim injunction but, before trial, a comprehensive witness statement will be needed). Your witness statement, when signed, will be a document which you will be confirming to the court or tribunal, on oath, at the trial, to be true. You would need to be satisfied that it is true to the best of your knowledge and belief; my role, if you asked me to do the work of settling the witness statement, would be to ensure that it is clearly expressed, gives all relevant detail that you can remember, and complies with the rules for witness statements (e.g. clearly distinguishing between matters of knowledge and matters of belief). This means that if you ask me to do the work of settling a witness statement, you would write the first draft, and then drafts would pass between us as many times as is necessary. If your first draft is very clear and detailed, and you are able to clearly answer any queries I have, my contribution to the drafting process may not take me very long. On the other hand it can happen that many drafts are necessary because the answer to each query raises further queries, so, in factually complex cases, it may not be feasible to predict, at the outset, how many drafts there will be and how much time might be spent on each draft - not even approximately. Such iterative work, therefore, may not suitable for a fixed fee and may need to be charged on a time basis.

So the fee, for each piece of work, will normally be one of the following:-

1. A fixed fee, agreed in advance, for a conference or site visit of a stated duration followed by a written Opinion. 

2. A fixed fee, agreed in advance, for drafting a document such an Application for an Injunction, or Particulars of Claim or Defence, or perhaps a further written Opinion if there have been developments since the last written Opinion.

3. A fixed fee, agreed in advance, for representation on a particular day in court/tribunal.

4. A fee charged after the work has been carried out calculated at my usual hourly rate multiplied by the number of hours it took me to do the work, in those few instances where it is not feasible to agree a fixed fee in advance.

If you want to get some idea of what the total fees for a case, from start to finish, might be, please read this


Can I have a free initial chat with you?

No. I am afraid not. I, like most barristers, operate on a low-overhead business model. Barristers typically spend from nothing to very little on advertising, usually relying on a website and their reputation. Barristers are self-employed and share office costs with other self-employed barristers in chambers. And because barristers spend a lot of time either in court/tribunal or working from home, a barrister's chambers will typically have less floor space, person for person, than offices do in general. Also chambers will not be on the high street - because it does not need to use a high street presence for marketing purposes - where property costs are higher. Consistent with this low overhead business model I charge for everything I do: I do not provide any advice free.

Solicitors have a different business model which is why the fee charged for a solicitor is higher than a barrister of equivalent seniority would charge. Solicitors' firms consist of partners or directors who are the senior solicitors who own the firm and receive the profits, and a larger number of employed solicitors and other staff, and their business model typically uses the "one third rule" - i.e. out of the fee charged for a solicitor's work, one third goes on the salary of the solicitor, one third is spent on overheads, and one third is profit for the owners of the firm. The one third spent on overheads includes office costs but a large proportion is taken up with advertising and marketing in one form or another. This will typically include free  30 minute initial consultations for new clients. If we assume that for each 30 minute consultation a further 30 minutes is needed to write a file note of what is said, and write a short follow-up letter or email, and if we assume that, say, one out of five people who have a free 30 minute consultation go on to engage the solicitors to do further (chargeable) work, that means that the firm's overheads include, on average, for each client, the costs of providing 5 hours of free advice.

If I provided free initial chats, I also would have to charge my clients higher fees to cover the cost of the four out of five initial chats which do not result in chargeable work. I would rather not do that. I prefer to charge at a lower rate by minimising overheads and not providing free initial chats.  

That is the main reason why I do not provide free initial chats but there is an additional reason. Bar Council rules mean that I am not allowed to provide any advice unless a client care letter has been sent and terms agreed. Although in theory this does not prevent an initial chat of a fact-finding nature, as long as no actual advice is provided, a conversation in which I cannot answer any legal question, no matter how simple, can be frustrating (for both parties). 


Can I phone you? 

I am afraid not. I do not use the phone (Why?).

 

Do you provide services on a 'no win no fee' basis?

I do not enter into "no win no fee" arrangements, nor do I enter into agreements with insurance companies or other third party funders. If you ask me to carry out legal work you are liable to pay my agreed fees. If you have insurance, or are a member of an organisation, such as a trade union or professional body which might pay for legal expenses, they might reimburse you for some or all of my fees (as well as, possibly, pay some other legal costs) but that is a matter between you and them. 


No advice before Client Care Letter

Once a fee is agreed, and before I do any piece of work (“work” includes giving any advice) I will send you (by email) a Client Care Letter setting out my terms of business and stating the work which I will do and the fee for that piece of work. There is no obligation (on either side) unless and until you confirm your agreement to the terms in the Client Care Letter. Nothing I say before the terms in the first Client Care Letter have been agreed should be taken as legal advice – we may discuss what work you would like me to do/what work your case appears to require, and when you might get back to me, but such discussions are not legal advice and should not be taken to mean that, for example, I am advising about time limits – which I cannot do unless and until the terms in a Client Care Letter are agreed and fee paid.


Why do Barristers charge less than Solicitors

For the most part barristers and solicitors have different roles - barristers do not collect evidence and most solicitors do not represent clients in court (except for the shorter more administrative hearings in the lower courts) - but in areas where both provide services, such as legal advice, it is true that barristers generally charge less than solicitors of equivalent seniority. Part of the reason for this is that barristers have lower overheads but a further reason may be that barristers have traditionally done most pieces of work on the basis of a fee fixed in advance, rather than simply at an hourly rate. Whilst a fixed fee is not intrinsically cheaper - a fixed fee is, after all, based on an estimate of how much time the piece of work is likely to take - it is probably true that doing work mainly on a fixed fee basis tends to make you more aware of ways of saving time so that it does in fact not take you as long as someone who normally charges at an hourly rate who may not be so concerned at working in an efficient way. 

For example, a solicitor will be quite happy for you to deliver to them your paper documents which they should, at the conclusion of the matter, store in an offsite facility for a number of years. Handling paper documents in this way increases costs - which is reflected in the fees charged - because documents have to be scanned/photocopied, which takes time, and the costs of long term offsite storage of paper are not insubstantial. By contrast a barrister will usually ask you to provide all documents as computer files - e.g. PDFs JPGs and EML/MSGs. The barrister may print these out for convenience when doing work but because all documents have been provided as computer files  - not in paper form - and because all documents the barrister has drafted will have been emailed to the client (rather than sent in paper form) the barrister will know that, at the conclusion of the case, everything they have on paper must be a copy of a document on computer so that only the computer files need to be archived, at minimal cost, and all paper can be confidentially shredded.

Although the use of computers became widespread only towards the end of the 20th Century, barristers have, in fact, always worked in a way which avoids the need for physical copying and archiving of documents. They were able to do this because throughout the 20th Century barristers only carried out work when engaged via solicitors, and the solicitors carried out - and still carry out when solicitors are involved - the necessary scanning/copying of documents to be sent to the barrister and subsequent archiving. So the way most barristers now work when engaged directly without a solicitor - asking for documents in PDF/JPG/EML/MSG form only - is fully in line with their traditional role concentrating on the specifically legal work and choosing a way of working which avoids unnecessary overheads. Barristers have always charged less than solicitors but before the advent of computers (and changes to the Code of Conduct for barristers to allow direct access without a solicitor) you always had to engage a solicitor as well. But since 2004, as long as you are able to use a computer and provide documents in PDF/JPG/EML/MSG form, you can often engage a barrister direct.

You can get documents scanned as PDFs at any high street print shop so you do not even need your own scanner. As long as you have a computer and can carry out basic functions such as loading files to cloud storage, sending emails and printing, you can engage a barrister direct to provide advice.  

If you are not able to use a computer - and not everyone is - then you can still engage a barrister by first going to a solicitor, although you then have to pay two sets of fees.     


Do I need to engage Solicitors as well as a Barrister?

As long as you can scan in and load paper documents and can provide JPG and EML/MSG files containing relevant photos/emails you can go direct to a barrister for advice - you do not generally need, at that stage, to engage solicitors as well. However if, subsequently, there are legal proceedings then you might need to engage solicitors as well. It depends on the nature of the case.

Throughout the 20th Century it was not possible to engage a barrister direct - only through a solicitor - and for the approximately 150 years before that it was the general practice, albeit not the universal rule, that barristers were only engaged via solicitors. Since 2004, however, it has been possible to go direct to a barrister. This is, however, only on the basis that the kind of work carried out by the barrister remains, as before, advice, legal drafting, and representation before a court or tribunal. In other words if a client does not engage a solicitor then the client themselves must be able to do any necessary work which would have been done by a solicitor.

It may be wondered how a client could possibly carry out "solicitor work" since solicitors have extensive training. A full answer to this question would involve analysing in detail the kind of work which solicitors do but the short answer is that although solicitors manage the firm of solicitors and supervise staff most people who work in the average solicitors' firm are not actually qualified solicitors and the proportion of work which is actually carried out by solicitors, rather than by other staff who are not solicitors, varies with different kinds of case. Some tasks done within the firm are, in some cases, done entirely by solicitors while in other cases the same type of task may be delegated by a solicitor to an unqualified or less qualified assistant, the solicitor using their skill to decide and define key aspects of the task and the unqualified person then carrying out the lion's share of the work for that task. If the case is a dispute between a client and their current or former employer, for example, the employee client will have a enormous amount of information about what happened day in and day out during their employment and it needs a solicitor with understanding of the many different employment rights under different pieces of legislation to interview the client using their legal knowledge and skill to home in on the legally important information as various possible "angles" are suggested by what the client recounts. But in the case of a dispute over a right of way, on the other hand, where the information which may be relevant is more easy to define in advance, such extensive time-consuming involvement by a qualified solicitor may not be required. 

A wide variety of clerical staff are needed in a solicitors' firm to provide the package of services to the client and many elements of that package - for example, scanning in and organising documents, and marking up witness statements in a trial bundle with the page references for the documents referred to - are things which require care and take some time, but do not require actual legal expertise, and these are things which many clients could do themselves. Also solicitors may use external resources, such as process servers, document management/bundle production computer services, investigators, and experts such as surveyors and engineers, which the client can engage directly. 

A further point is that traditionally solicitors firms can be quite focused on trying to achieve as near to full costs recovery as possible in litigation. They may charge £10 for a letter aimed at recovering £10 copying expenses from the other side in the hope that, if their client wins, the additional £10 will also be recovered from the other side if the court/tribunal makes a costs order. They will spend time producing schedules of costs which include every small item which could possibly be claimed and then spend further time in disputes about what the rules allow even for small items. A cynic may think that this is simply a case of a firm doing unnecessary work to increase its profits but anyone who has ever worked in an organisation of any size, particularly an organisation where a file for each case may be worked on from time to time by different people within the organisation, will know that some degree of standardisation of approach is necessary to ensure efficient working which helps to keep overall costs down, and reduce the risk of mistakes, even if it also produces some instances such as the examples above. So it can be that a disproportionate amount of time may be spent chasing recovery of that last 5% of costs. But a client who engages a barrister direct will typically take a pragmatic view, concentrate on the bigger picture and the bigger items of expenditure and not spend time on every last item or spend money asking a barrister to advise how the costs rules might apply to small/doubtful items. In reality even if time and money is spent attempting to claim all possible costs, including the last 5%, full recovery of all those costs is rarely achieved and recovering 90% of costs claimed if you win is more realistic. If engaging a solicitor as well as a barrister is about twice as expensive as engaging a barrister alone (the proportion varies from case to case but taking that as an example) that may mean that the unrecovered costs, if a solicitor is engaged, will probably still be higher even after taking account of the fact that the direct access client will not be chasing the last 5%  because if you recover 85% of costs of X that is still better than recovering 90% of costs of 2X. So part of the answer to the question of how the client can do 'solicitor work' is that if you take a pragmatic view, concentrating on the big picture, some solicitor work does not have to be done at all.

So there are cases where it is possible to engage a barrister directly, without a solicitor, and there are cases where a solicitor is required as well. There are also cases where it is possible to engage a barrister direct initially - for example to provide a written Opinion - but where a solicitor may need to be engaged later on if there is litigation. Whether it is possible to engage a barrister direct in your particular case depends on the complexity of the case and, to a certain extent, on your own skills - whether you can scan in and name documents as PDFs for example and have the time to do so. When you contact a barrister direct the barrister will tell you if yours is a case where a solicitor will be required as well.  

This page was lasted updated in August 2019          Disclaimer