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.
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 land law which is a specialist area within the overall umbrella of civil law and this FAQ is written with civil law matters in mind. Other barristers practise in other specialised areas within civil law, or in family law or criminal law. See here for a general introduction to the kinds of matters a barrister may be able to help you with.
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 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 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 practice, or that the amount in dispute appears to be 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 about COVID-19 - are you still open?
Yes, I am providing legal services as usual including site visits. Neither the national legal restrictions on social contact, which are applied from time to time, nor local restrictions, prohibit site visits by lawyers for the purposes of their work. I follow "social distancing" guidelines and try to keep outdoors as much as possible during site visits. As explained above, if you require legal advice it is important to obtain that advice promptly so that any deadlines and opportunities are not missed (you won't know for certain what deadlines etc. there are until you take legal advice) and that may necessitate a site visit.
Hearings at courts and tribunals are still taking place albeit there is now a considerable backlog. Although there are exceptions, in general if you meet any deadline for issuing proceedings, or making a Land Registry Application, or serving any relevant notice, the fact that any eventual hearing may be delayed should not normally affect the eventual outcome - it is getting early advice and meeting the earlier deadline for making the application, etc. which is normally of greatest importance.
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.
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 generally 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 traditionally the business model 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 20th century and, to a large extent, in the 19th century as well, barristers only carried out work when engaged via solicitors, and the solicitors carried out the necessary copying of paper 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 work now, in the 21st century, when engaged directly without a solicitor - asking for copies of documents as computer files only, not on paper - is consistent with the way they always worked in the past in the sense of avoiding significant administrative overheads.
Solicitors' firms also tend to spend significant sums of money on marketing in various forms from ordinary advertisements to sponsorship of sporting and cultural events, having expensive high street offices, and perhaps offering free initial advice.
Both barristers and solicitors ask for payment of fees in advance but barristers charge fixed fees for each piece of work, with the fixed fee 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 solicitors' firm became insolvent or, more likely, if the client decided for some reason 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 to be paid on by the solicitors to a third party (e.g. during a house purchase). 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.
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.