Solicitor Costs: Urgent or Emergency Work

There is nothing wrong in principle with a solicitor charging inflated solicitor costs for urgent or emergency work in their hourly rate . Whether the work is out of hours or is given priority due to late instruction, if an increased hourly rate is agreed for that work there is no reason why that should not be fair.

Urgent work rates can be used to control client behaviour (ring me out of hours and pay extra) or to politely decline work (I would love to help but have to charge you at this rate...). Other solicitors claim to be entitled to charge an uplift (a percentage increase) for work done either very competently or urgently.

Most solicitors who genuinely conduct emergency work such as domestic violence injunctions do not charge an inflated rate. Also, if a solicitor takes the work on they are certifying that they have the capacity to do it, so it is only rarely that an inflated rate would be justified. However, the rate is a matter for negotiation between the client and the solicitor. If an inflated rate is agreed for the whole case then so be it. The real issues arise when the inflated rate only applies in specific circumstances.

The contract between the solicitor and client should define when the "urgent" rate will apply. Failure to properly define this can be a licence to print money. We have recently come across a firm of solicitors who left everything to the last minute, by which time the work was always urgent. In so doing they claimed they were always entitled to charge the client at their urgent rate.

If clients challenged inflated claims for costs through proper channels then the likelihood is that either the solicitors would drop the rate or it would be reduced by the Court for all but the most urgent work. However, a large proportion of clients do not know how to challenge a bill and just end up paying. The solicitors take the risk that there will be cases where they have to reduce their fees because of the amount of extra money they make on the cases they get away with it on.

Should you instruct a solicitor and they wish to include an "urgent" work hourly rate or uplift in their terms and conditions you need to make sure that the definition of urgent is objective, not subjective, and clearly spelt out. If you are not happy with the terms then go elsewhere. Do not leave the ability to decide what amounts to urgent work up to the solicitor.