I need legal advice. How can I contact you?
For a quotation for advice about a legal matter concerning land, send me an email outlining the background and attaching any key documents. You don’t need to give all the details and all the documents in this initial email, just a summary (I will let you know if I need more information before a quote can be given) but if you do want to provide a significant number of documents initially a convenient way to do so is using Bundledocs.
Like all barristers I am a self-employed individual and how quickly I may be able to carry out any work (such as legal advice or legal drafting) which you ask me to provide a quotation for, or whether I am able to represent you at a hearing on a particular day (if you are seeking a quotation for that) will depend on my other commitments at the time you ask me for the quotation. If the matter is urgent, please state this when asking for a quotation.
Note: I myself practise in civil law, especially land law, and this FAQ is only about civil law. Other barristers practise in other areas of law such as family law and criminal law. See here for an introduction to the kinds of matters a barrister may be able to help you with.
What about COVID-19 - are you still open?
Yes, I am providing legal services as usual including site visits following "social distancing" guidelines.
No advice before Client Care Letter
Before I do any piece of work (“work” includes giving any legal 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, and I won't do any work until you have paid the fee.
Nothing I say before the terms in the first Client Care Letter have been agreed and you have paid the fee should be taken to be legal advice. We may discuss by email what work you would like me to do/what work your case appears to require, and practical matters such as when might be convenient for a site visit, but such discussions should not be construed as legal advice. It does occasionally happen that when I start to do the agreed piece of work - such as drafting a document - it becomes apparent, as the matter is looked into and/or further information is provided, that that piece of work is nor appropriate and/or feasible and/or that there were tighter legal deadlines applicable than those previously implicitly assumed, so you should not take anything I say before I start to do the actual legal work as implied legal advice about time limits or legal advice about anything else. I cannot provide any legal advice - including advice about time limits – unless and until the terms in a Client Care Letter are agreed and fee paid. Sometimes I receive enquiries from potential clients and after a quotation for advice has been given they respond by saying that they have decided to leave matters for now and perhaps offering some explanation or rationale for deciding to leave matters and perhaps indicating some course of action they intend to try first, but I can't (unless and until the terms in a Client Care Letter are agreed and fee paid) give any advice on the wisdom or otherwise of any stated rationale or intended action.
Bear in mind that when I receive enquiries from potential clients I generally skim-read the information provided in order to estimate the work which might be involved so that a fixed-price quote can be given and it is generally only once a Client Care Letter has been sent and fee paid that I will study the material in detail. This is for reasons of efficiency - if I spent too much time reading to provide quotes my general fee rates (paid by those clients who do wish to proceed) would have to be higher to cover time spent on enquiries from potential clients which do proceed. Also if I read too much when giving a quote and the enquirer did not proceed it is possible - though this does not often happen - that I might get an enquiry from another potential client involved in the same matter and be unable to proceed to give them a quote because of information I have read which I still remember from the enquiry by the first potential client. For example if a landowner blocks a route over which several neighbours claim a right of way and I get an enquiry from one neighbour which does not proceed, I do not want to have read and remembered details about the first neighbour which mean that I cannot accept another neighbour as a client if I subsequently get an enquiry from another neighbour.
If I decide, before I send you a Client Care Letter, that the matter is not one I can help with, I may explain briefly why I take that view - for example that the subject matter is outside my core area of practise, or that the amount in dispute is modest so that you might be better off with a more junior barrister who might charge lower fees, or that the matter requires a solicitor to be engaged, or that my current workload and availability, when considered alongside the apparent urgency of the matter, is such that I think you would be better off with another lawyer who can act more quickly. Any such explanation is given as a courtesy and is not legal advice.
Should I seek legal advice now or should I wait?
If you have received a notification that legal proceedings have been started in a court or tribunal (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 response to the claim, 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 proceedings have not been threatened or started, the best course 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, make a Land Registry application, 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 collecting and preserving evidence) 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 or not 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 parts of the country do you cover?
Although the main tribunals concerned with freehold land are London-based, I travel widely throughout England (not Wales or Scotland as the law is different there) as, in order to give the best advice, it is essential to view the land concerned. I can reach any part of England (except the Scilly Isles and Lindisfarne) and return within a day and, as I work whilst travelling, the location does not affect my fees.
What fees do you charge?
The types of work which barristers do fall into three broad categories
1. Written Opinion – a barrister’s assessment of how the law applies to a given situation and the likelihood of winning any litigation. If this is the first written Opinion then invariably it will be preceded by a site visit/conference.
2. Drafting legal documents required in litigation such as Claim Forms, pleadings, and Applications.
3. Representing you at a court or tribunal hearing.
Fixed Fees for each item of work
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 my estimate of how much time the piece of work is likely to take me but remains fixed even if the work turns out to take me longer than estimated. So the fee, for each piece of work, will normally be one of the following:-
1. A fixed fee, agreed in advance, for a site visit/conference of a stated duration followed by a written Opinion.
2. A fixed fee, agreed in advance, for drafting a document such an Application to the Land Registry, an Application to the Upper Tribunal, an Application to the High Court for an Injunction, a pleading document (statement of case), or perhaps a further written Opinion or short written Advice (if there have been developments since the last written Opinion, or if further relevant historical documents have since come to light).
3. A fixed fee, agreed in advance, for representation on a particular day at a court/tribunal hearing.
Total fees in a case
I quote a fixed fee for each piece of work based on my estimate of how long the work might take me based on the information I then have. So, for example, if I have finished writing an Opinion and you ask me to quote for drafting an Application, I take account, when quoting for that work, of the information I have gathered about the case from the previous work of providing an Opinion. If you ask me to quote for drafting a Defence document I take account of the document from the other side which the Defence document is a reply to in estimating how long it might take me and, therefore, what fixed fee to quote. This means that I cannot, at the outset, quote a fixed fee for the whole of the work which may be needed in a case - I only quote for each piece of work at the time. But although I cannot quote, at the outset, for all of the work which may eventually be needed, I may be able to give you a "ballpark" figure. It is difficult to give even a "ballpark" figure before I have done the work of providing an initial Opinion but in most cases it possible to provide a "ballpark" figure once an initial Opinion has been provided.
Can I have a free initial chat on the phone?
I am afraid not. I do not use the phone (Why?).
Can I come and see you for a free initial chat?
You are welcome to come and see me by arrangement to discuss your case - a "conference" as it is called (or we can meet on site, for matters concerning land, or other convenient location) - but I am afraid it would not be free. 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 four 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 doing 4 hours work.
If I provided free initial conferences, I also would have to charge my clients higher fees to cover the cost of those conferences 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 conferences.
That is the main reason why I do not provide free initial conferences 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. In theory this does not prevent an initial conference of a fact-finding nature, as long as no actual advice is provided, but a conversation in which I cannot answer any legal question, no matter how simple, can be frustrating (for both of us).
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 as I must be free to act in what I judge is your best interests and not be constrained by any terms which third party funders might seek to impose. If you agree to the terms of a Client Care Letter I send you, you are liable to pay my agreed fees as set out in that Client Care Letter. If you have insurance, or are a member of a club or membership organisation which might pay for legal expenses, they might or might not reimburse you for some or all of my fees (as well as, possibly, pay some other costs) but that is a matter between you and them.
Why do Barristers charge less than Solicitors?
Generally the hourly rate charged by solicitors is higher than the hourly rate charged by barristers of equivalent seniority (barristers usually charge a fixed fee for each piece of work but the fixed fee is set by multiplying an hourly rate by the estimated time the work is likely to take). Many people are surprised by this because, in most professional fields, specialists earn more than generalists. But the main reason is that barristers have lower overheads.
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 and not in paper form. 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 19th and 20th Centuries barristers generally only carried out work when engaged via solicitors, and the solicitors carried out the necessary copying of documents to be sent to the barrister and subsequent archiving. Before the 19th Century barristers were often engaged direct without a solicitor but paper was much more expensive then and consequently there were far fewer written documents in the average case. So the way most barristers now work when engaged directly without a solicitor - asking for copies of documents as computer files only, not on paper - is in line with their traditional role concentrating on the specifically legal work and working in a way which avoids unnecessary overheads.
Both barristers and solicitors ask for payment of fees in advance but barristers charge fixed fees for each piece of work - the work to be done for that fixed fee, and the fixed fee itself, being contractually agreed before the fee is paid and work done. Solicitors, on the other hand charge an hourly rate for all work done and although some broad estimate of costs may be given the final fee for each piece of work is not fixed and is not known in advance. But because, for credit-control reasons, solicitors require payment in advance the client is asked to pay a lump sum of money "on account", and as work proceeds at an hourly rate and the lump sum available is getting low, the client is asked to top it up with a further lump sum. Between one top up and another the solicitor will be holding a decreasing sum of money which actually belongs to the client - i.e. it is money which the client would be entitled to receive back if the solicitor were to be asked to cease all work (e.g. if the client decided to change to a different firm of solicitors). This means that effectively the solicitors are acting as bankers and, just as with ordinary banks, there has to be extensive regulation and/or insurance in place to safeguard client funds - the same kind of regulation/insurance which applies where the client pays the solicitor money (such as the purchase price of a house) to be paid on by the solicitors to a third party. The costs of this insurance and regulation is relatively high which is a further overhead which solicitors have to incur - in contrast to barristers who never hold client money.
Do I need to engage Solicitors as well as a Barrister?
The short answer is that to obtain an initial Opinion you don't need a solicitor - you can go straight to a barrister. Later on you might need a solicitor but, if you do, your barrister will tell you. For the long answer see below.
It is useful to distinguish between three stages:-
Stage 1 - Initially seeking a barrister's Opinion on a legal dispute (or a dispute of a kind which could become a legal dispute) - you can go directly to a barrister.
Stage 2 - Following the barrister's Opinion, obtaining any further document/information necessary to answer any "known unknowns" identified so that you are ready to commence legal proceedings (if it comes to that), or ready to defend any legal proceedings which it can be anticipated may be issued against you in future, and/or able to take practical steps to safeguard your position - in most cases you can go directly to a barrister for advice at this stage as well.
Stage 3 - Legal proceedings - you might need a solicitor as well as a barrister: it depends on the type of case and, in particular, on the number of documents.
When you are initially seeking a barrister's Opinion (Stage 1) you don't need to engage a solicitor as well. Before providing a written Opinion a barrister will meet you to ask questions ("conference") and, importantly, to see the site if it is a matter concerning land, so you don't need to scan in every paper document in advance as the barrister can see documents at the conference and identify the key documents which then need to be scanned in (just after the conference has finished) to be studied by the barrister before providing the written Opinion. So although (as explained above) barristers will generally ask you to provide them with copies of documents as computer files - not in paper form - even if you do not have a scanner and can only do low-volume scanning with a phone, that is not an insurmountable difficulty when initially seeking a barrister's Opinion.
At Stage 2 also the great majority of clients find that they do not need a solicitor but some might. Because of the way they work barristers have particular requirements, when providing direct access services, which do not suit every client. As previously mentioned a barrister will ask you to provide them with copies of documents as computer files - not in paper form. Some clients would do this instinctively anyway, scanning in any paper documents not already on computer, but for others it can be a chore.
Also a barrister will "package" the services they provide into specific defined pieces of work, with a Client Care Letter for each piece of work specifying the work and the fee, so you may find that when you ask for something (for example pose a series of questions, following receipt of the initial written Opinion, which you would like detailed answers on) the barrister explains that that is not included in the work currently agreed for a fixed fee, but would be a new piece of work for which a further fixed fee will need to be quoted. This way of working provides transparency about costs but some clients can find it somewhat artificial. Most clients get the hang of it and can see its advantages but for a minority of clients it seems alien and, for example, after agreeing the terms of a Client Care Letter setting out work to be done for a fixed fee based on the barrister considering a defined set of documents obtained, they will, immediately upon paying the fee, send the barrister further specific queries, and further documents which they have just got round to scanning in, so that a new fixed fee, taking account of the extra work which will be entailed considering the new material, needs to be quoted and a replacement Client Care Letter sent. By contrast if you engage a solicitor the solicitor will not itemise charges for each piece of work as work proceeds, and will (within reason, at least in the early stages) be unfazed by material turning up in a haphazard way, as the solicitor will simply charge an hourly rate for all work done, asking you initially to provide a lump sum "on account" and only troubling you further when the lump sum is about to run out and a further lump sum payment is required. Although this is likely to turn out to be more expensive in the end, nevertheless some clients prefer this as they don't have to think in terms of specific pieces of work being done (it is all just one overall matter which the solicitor is taking care of) nor be as disciplined in thinking in one go of all the questions they want to ask at a particular stage.
Sometimes clients ask me why I cannot operate more like solicitors and simply respond to emails raising questions as they come, charging an hourly rate like solicitors do, without having to fit work into fixed price packages. There are a number of reasons why work is packaged into fixed price units but they really boil down to the fact that I (like all barristers) am a single individual practitioner, whereas a firm of solicitors is an organisation. An organisation, charging an hourly rate, can agree always to be available to respond to your emails because it can arrange matters so that if the particular individual solicitor you normally deal with is unavailable for any reason (which could be because they are on holiday, training, unwell, or perhaps having to concentrate on some urgent matter for another client) then some other solicitor in the organisation can respond to your email. But if I am unavailable then I am unavailable - like all barristers I do all my work personally and if I am unavailable the client simply has to wait. In cases of great urgency a client could instruct a different barrister if I am unavailable but that would be more expensive because the new barrister would have to read a considerable amount of material to become familiar with the case before they were in a position to deal with the specific matter arising. Being able to instruct a different barrister is an important "fail-safe" but it is equally important to arrange matters so that it is a rarity. This means that I have to package each piece of work so that I am as sure as I can be of being able to complete that piece of work in a reasonable time, before any predictable unavailability. It also means that the client has to be able to marshal their thoughts at each significant stage when it is natural for a further written Advice to be provided, so that the Advice can cover all the questions they wish to ask, and they can refer back to the written Advice when thinking about the matter in the future (rather than relying on being able to fire off an email at any time). Ultimately most clients come to realise the benefits of working in this way because whilst it can be satisfying to fire off an email asking any question when it occurs to you and get a prompt response, if you are looking back at past emails for an answer to a question previously asked it may not be easy to find, and even when found it may not be as definite as you remember it. Email, like all conversational media, relies heavily on context but a context which may not be explicit and has to be gathered from what led up to it (which may include outside events which set part of the context). By contrast a more formal written Opinion or Advice, as well as answering any specific questions posed, will give a overall view and context which is likely to still be useful for reference for the client in the weeks ahead. In fact Opinions and Advices are also an efficient resource for me to quickly refresh my memory of the case (when there is a sizeable time gap between doing one piece of work and another) but this only works precisely because all significant advice given is in formal written Opinions and Advices rather being scattered between a limited number of formal Opinions/Advices and a greater number of emails.
If civil legal proceedings (court or tribunal proceedings) are to be commenced (Stage 3) then at that stage you might need solicitors as well as a barrister. As explained below it depends partly on you - whether you can carry out certain administrative work and "fit in" with the way barristers work, and partly on the type of case including the area of law involved, the number of potentially relevant documents, and whether witnesses evidence is needed.
A solicitor is an attorney-at-law which means that a solicitor can sign certain kinds of legal document on your behalf, formally file them using the court/tribunal website, and "serve" them on your opponent. If you don't engage a solicitor then you have to sign, file and serve formal documents - a barrister can draft the document but you have to sign, file and serve and also carry out some other administrative tasks.
Court and tribunal proceedings can take up to a year or more from the time proceedings are formally commenced to the final hearing (trial). During that period any lawyer involved in the case is likely to also deal with numerous other cases so they cannot possibly remember all the details of all the cases throughout that period of, say, a year. And even if a lawyer only had one case to deal with throughout the whole year, the fact that there are a number of steps in legal proceedings, at which concentrated work is done, separated by weeks of inactivity, would inevitably mean that at each stage the lawyer would need to refresh their knowledge of of the case to some degree. Solicitors and barristers do this in different ways. Solicitors maintain a case file partly because there needs to be an "institutional memory" but also because solicitors pride themselves on not asking the client for the same information twice - a solicitor will make a note of every phone call with the client and will keep that on the case file with letters and emails and scour the file to find out if the information sought is already there somewhere before contacting the client to ask them for the information. This avoids an annoyed response from the client "I have told you/your colleague all this before!" but looking through the case file is also costly, particularly if the client sends regular long emails and/or often phones. Whether this way of working should be regarded as too costly is a matter of client choice. Clients with more money than time will regard it as a valuable service. Clients with more time than money would much prefer to be asked for information, at the time it is needed for the lawyer to carry out the next piece of work, even if it is information which could be found by searching through past emails, if this means lower fees. But using this as a strategy to save fees isn't really possible with solicitors because the case file would still have to be maintained as an "institutional memory" (even if only a short-term institutional memory). It is, however, precisely the way barristers work. A barrister commencing a new piece of work will refresh their memory of the key features and outline of the case by reading previous written Opinions and Advices, reading the pleadings and other key legal documents already drafted in the case, and browsing the relevant evidential documents in a system such as Bundledocs, but will not normally search through prior emails with the client to see if further details they require to do the next piece of work may be there. Instead they will ask the client for any further detailed information needed to do the piece of work they are about to commence. So if you don't mind being asked for information at the point when it is needed by me to do the next piece of work your case requires (even if it is information you have provided in the past) and you can resist the temptation to send emails in the weeks between the completion of one piece of work and the start of the next (unless, of course, something has happened that you want a quote for advice about) then you would normally be able to engage me on a direct access basis, where there are legal proceedings, without needing a solicitor.
However there are some types of case where, because of the area of law involved and/or the number of potentially relevant documents, or where witness evidence is needed, it is necessary to engage solicitors in any event. For example, in legal proceedings about a restrictive covenant affecting land it may be feasible for you to identify and collect together the potentially relevant documents I might need when drafting pleadings for the proceedings as these are likely to be relatively few and if you were to be in any doubt as to whether some individual document was relevant you could include it in the documents you provide to me anyway to be on the safe side. However if the dispute, rather than being about a land, is a commercial dispute, in that case it can be difficult for someone who does not have legal training to reliably identify those documents which are, and those documents which are not, relevant and, as there may be thousands of potentially relevant documents, you cannot simply adopt the course of including in the documents to be provided to the barrister any document where there is any doubt in your mind about relevance because that would be likely to result in providing large numbers of irrelevant documents which it would not be cost-effective to pay a barrister to review. So in cases like this a firm of solicitors needs to be engaged. Solicitors firms employ not only qualified solicitors of different levels of seniority but also trainee solicitors and paralegals whose fee rates are much lower so that there can be an efficient "division of labour". Typically the task of identifying the relevant documents will be considered first by an experienced solicitor who would consider the issues in the case, sample the available documents, and devise an initial computerised searching strategy such as, at its most basic, keyword searching. Those documents identified by the search - say 5,000 documents - would then be individually reviewed by perhaps two paralegals under the supervision of the solicitor, to produce a subset of relevant documents to be sent to the barrister. (Note: this is a simplified description of the internal process solicitors would use - in practice there would be some degree of iteration e.g. the solicitor would look at at least a sample of documents identified by the paralegals, and consider whether further keyword searches - or other more sophisticated searches - should be made and further documents reviewed.)
However it sometimes happens that, after the "pleadings" stage of litigation, it is clear that there are no factual issues in dispute - it is simply a dispute about applying the law to the undisputed facts and in that case, even if there are thousands of documents it may be relatively easy to identify those few documents relevant to the legal issue in dispute (such as a contract whose interpretation is disputed), so a solicitor may not be needed.
Similarly if there is likely to be a need for witness evidence a solicitor will need to be engaged, but in some cases it is apparent after the pleadings stage that either there are no factual issues in dispute or that the only factual issues in dispute are ones where there were no independent witnesses (i.e. the only people who witnessed the disputed events were the parties themselves) in which case solicitors may not be needed.
So, in summary, when seeking initial advice about a dispute or potential dispute you rarely need a solicitor and you can go direct to a barrister. After an initial written Opinion has been provided, if further work, including legal proceedings, is needed then, depending on the type of case you might then need a solicitor but the barrister you go to for the initial written Opinion will then be able to advise you whether solicitors are required at that stage or not.
Note that if there is no dispute or potential dispute in prospect and you simply want a legal transaction to be carried out, such as making a Will or setting up a company, including, of course, advice about that potential transaction - what solicitors call a non-contentious matter - then you need to engage solicitors from the outset. In such non-contentious matters barristers are not normally involved, or if the matter is complex and the advice of a specialist barrister is needed, the barrister will invariably be engaged by the solicitors, not directly by the client.
Is there anything else I need to know?
Like all barristers I am regulated by the Bar Standards Board. In addition to the information above about e.g. what kind of work I do, how I typically charge, and how to obtain a quotation, the regulations require me to give you the following additional links and information.