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 in this initial email, just a summary. I will let you know if I need more information before a quote can be given.
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 other 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 your response may limit the legal arguments you are subsequently allowed to put forward when resisting 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 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 people or organisations which may, for example, be routinely destroyed after a certain period of time. 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 situation 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, it is possible 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 and Wales (not Scotland or Northern Ireland where the law is different) 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 conference/site visit if land and/or buildings are involved.
2. Drafting a legal document required in litigation such as an Application or a Statement of Case.
3. Representing you at a hearing at a court or other tribunal.
Fixed Fees for each item of work
The fee which I quote for each piece of work which you ask me to carry out will normally be a fixed fee (rather than an hourly charge) - e.g.
1. A fixed fee for a site visit/conference followed by a written Opinion.
2. A fixed fee 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 statement of case, or perhaps a further written Opinion (e.g. if there have been developments since the last written Opinion, or if further relevant historical documents have come to light).
3. A fixed fee for representation on a particular day at a tribunal hearing.
I quote a fixed fee for each item taking into account how much work will be involved in that item based on the 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 Statement of Case I take account of the document from the other side, which the Statement of Case will be a reply to, in determining how much work will be involved in drafting the Statement of Case and, therefore, the fixed fee to quote. This means that I cannot, at the outset, quote an overall fixed fee for the entirety of the work which might end up being required over the lifetime of your whole case - I only quote for each piece of work at the time. But although I cannot quote, at the outset, for all of the barrister 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 - not least because the exact route which the case is likely to take (which tribunal and/or what type of claim or application) needs to be assessed - but in most cases it is possible to provide a "ballpark" figure once an initial written Opinion has been provided.
No charge for travel
For the areas of law I practise in, I consider that an initial site visit is necessary in order to be sure of giving the best advice. So I make it a rule never to advise before seeing the site. I don't make any extra charge for a site visit, wherever it is in England or Wales - I can work whilst travelling so it is not lost time and I do not charge for travelling expenses. Traditionally travel is part of a barrister's life - reflected in the fact that the collective name for the four professional societies of barristers is Inns of Court.
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 agree to the terms of a Client Care Letter I send you, you are liable to pay the fixed fee specified in that Client Care Letter for the work stated. If you have insurance, or are a member of a membership organisation which might pay for legal expenses, they might or might not reimburse you for some or all of my fee (and perhaps also pay some other costs such as the fee of the court or other tribunal) but that is a matter between you and them.
Do I need solicitors as well as a barrister?
It is not normally necessary, in the areas of law I practise in - rights of way, restrictive covenants, and adverse possession - to engage solicitors when first seeking a legal Opinion (though it might be necessary to engage solicitors later on if there is litigation) but, if you prefer to engage me via solicitors, information for your solicitors can be found here.
If you require advice on a right of way matter then you will normally be better off engaging me direct for an initial legal Opinion. The usual protocol between solicitors and barristers assumes that barristers only consider the documents provided to them by the solicitors. This is consistent with the fact that barristers do not usually investigate and obtain evidence. However a barrister can, exceptionally, obtain documents direct from the Land Registry and may be asked to do so because the organisation of the Land Register is such that there are some "hidden documents" (known as non-referred-to documents) which can be retrieved with specialist knowledge. Such hidden documents may be particularly important in cases involving disputes over rights of way. This may mean that you will be better off engaging me direct for an initial legal Opinion in a rights of way matter than engaging me via solicitors (unless your solicitors happen to be one of the few firms who specialise in freehold land law litigation).
Why do Barristers charge less than Solicitors?
Solicitors do some kinds of work. such as buying and selling property (conveyancing), which barristers do not do, and barristers represent clients in courts and other tribunals which solicitors do not normally appear at, but for the kind of work which both barristers and solicitors do, such as providing legal advice and drafting litigation documents, generally the fees charged by solicitors are higher than the fees charged by barristers of equivalent seniority. 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, most solicitors still have a paper-based way of working. Solicitors send and receive letters and forms and generally maintain a paper file which, upon conclusion of the matter, is stored - usually in an offsite facility - for a number of years. Having to scan and/or photocopy paper documents increases costs - which has ultimately to be reflected in the fees charged - and the costs of long term offsite secure storage of paper are themselves not insubstantial. By contrast a barrister will usually ask you to provide all documents as computer files and not in paper form. And when a letter or drafted document needs to be sent out, the barrister will draft the document and send it by email to the client who would print it out and send it off. Also any incoming post would be received by the client, scanned in, and emailed to the barrister as appropriate. The barrister may print out documents 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 printout of a computer file so that only the computer files need to be archived, at minimal cost, and all paper can be confidentially shredded.
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.
Traditionally solicitors are office based so that the office provides a starting point for when chargeable travelling time commences when visiting a client or viewing a site in a land dispute. By contrast barristers tend not to charge for travelling time. This is partly tradition - the title of barristers professional societies - Inns of Court - reflects the fact that travel - whether to a hearing, or to meet the client, or to view a site in a land dispute, has always been part of the barrister's life rather than something extra to be charged for. Also barristers tend to work whilst travelling so it is not lost time.
Both barristers and solicitors ask for payment in advance but barristers charge fixed fees for each piece of work, with the fixed fee being contractually due before the item of work is commenced. Solicitors, on the other hand, charge an hourly rate so that the fee for a piece of work is not known until the item of work has been completed, but for credit-control reasons solicitors still require some payment in advance. The client is asked to pay a lump sum of money "on account", work proceeds at an hourly rate, and when the lump sum is used up, the client is asked for a further lump sum on account. So between one lump sum payment and another the firm of solicitors 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 at the end of the case (or if the client decided for some reason to change to a different firm of solicitors). This means that effectively the solicitors' firm is, as part of providing legal services, performing the role of bankers and, 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 which the solicitors have been retained to carry out). 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 you provide free 30 minute telephone consultations?
I am afraid not. I do not give advice by phone (why?) and in any case, for the reasons explained below, I do not provide free advice.
Like most barristers I operate on a low-overhead business model. Barristers typically have low fixed overheads spending from nothing to very little on advertising, usually relying on their 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 at hearings or working from home, a barristers' chambers will typically have less floor space, person for person, than offices do in general. Also chambers will not be on the high street, where property costs are higher, as barristers do not need a high street presence for marketing purposes.
To keep my variable overheads low too, I do not provide any advice free.
Traditionally firms of solicitors offered 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 was discussed, 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 work for a fee, that means that the firm's overheads include on average, for each new client who goes on to ask for further work to be done for a fee, the cost of doing 4 hours work. The hourly rates charged, once the client is paying for work, then have to be set at a level which means that, on average, the cost of the 4 hours work is recouped over the course of the client's engagement of the firm on the matter in hand. In fact the business model traditionally used by solicitors is based on the "one third rule" - i.e. out of the fee charged, one third goes on overheads, one third goes to salaried solicitors and paralegals who do most of the work, and one third is profit for the owners of the firm.
If I provided free initial conferences, I would have to charge higher fees. I would rather not do that: I prefer to charge lower fees by minimising overheads and not providing free initial conferences.
In recent years the number of solicitors' firms offering free 30 minute consultations has in fact declined. Also the "due diligence" checks required because of the way solicitors handle client money (see FAQ above) have increased and many of those solicitor's firms which still offer free 30 minute consultations will carry out the "due diligence" checks as part of the free 30 minutes so that the amount of actual legal advice which can be provided within the 30 minutes consultation is quite limited and very often quite "broad brush".
Is there anything else I need to know?
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 particular tribunal 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.
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.
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.