Instructing A Solicitor And The Contract

What Should You Do Before Instructing A Solicitor?

It is really important to do some basic research into which solicitor is the best one for your case. All solicitors have areas of expertise. Yes, this sometimes means they might charge slightly more per hour, but it should also mean they take less time to carry out your case and are more likely to get your desired result. The best idea is to call them and see if they will talk to you about your case. You will then get a feel for how you could work together. Also ask about their retainer and how they charge. We have created a handy checklist for you to use to ensure you keep legal costs as low as possible. Once you have decided on a solicitor, you will need to instruct them.

What Are Instructions?

Once a person has decided they need the services of a solicitor, they will need to instruct the solicitor to act on their behalf. In essence this means the solicitor needs to be officially asked to represent the client. At the start of every case, a solicitor should send out what is known as a “client care letter” or “retainer”. This document sets out the contract between the solicitor and the client, defining the work to be done and how this is to be paid for. Once the client has agreed to this contract, usually in writing, the solicitor is said to have been instructed.

The role of the solicitor is then to advise their clients on legal matters, so each client can make informed decisions about their case. Clients will then need to “instruct” their solicitor as the case progresses on how they wish them to proceed. The solicitor will then act on those instructions, as long as they are both legal and within the rules of professional conduct.

What Is A Valid Contract?

A valid contract normally requires consideration from both sides, along with offer and acceptance. Both offer and acceptance can either be in writing or verbal. Normally a solicitor will put the contract in writing so everyone knows where they stand. If they do not and there is later a dispute over what the terms of the contract were, the Court will generally find for the client, but this is not guaranteed and it will depend on the facts of the case.

The retainer is normally the entire contract with the client. This means the solicitor will only be entitled to be paid in accordance with the contract and will only be obliged to provide the services set out in the contract. The retainer will comprise of express terms (those that are stated) and implied terms (those that are inferred by law or custom) which affect that duty.

What If The Contract Has Not Been Signed?

If a client does not sign and return the agreement, it does not mean the contract does not exist. A solicitor may be able to prove the client received or had seen the retainer and so the contract was agreed once the work started being undertaken on their behalf.

What Should Be Included In A Solicitor Contract?

There are certain requirements, set down by the Law Society, that must be complied with in a client care agreement. The most important are setting out the qualifications of the person who will be working on your case, the hourly rate or fee structure that will apply, an estimate of the likely overall cost and details of how you can raise a complaint. During the course of the matter the solicitor should inform you of any changes to the costs estimate and usually this will be noted in the contract.

Can You Change Solicitors At Any Time?

Aclient has an absolute entitlement to choose any solicitor they like, although the solicitor does not have to agree to act for them. Thereafter, the client also has an absolute entitlement to change solicitors at any time. Conversely, should the solicitor wish to stop acting for the client they can only do so for "good reason" as defined in the contract. If a solicitor wrongfully terminates the contract, they will not be entitled to be paid and may also find they are sued for breach of contract and/or negligence.

Unsure Of The Terms Of Your Contract?

What To Do Next?

If you think your solicitor is not sticking to the terms of your contract and is charging you too much money, contact Routh Clarke now to discuss your situation to hear our advice on your next steps.

If you would like to find out more about Solicitor’s costs, please see the other sections in this section:

  • The Costs a Solicitor charges – in this section we look at the different types of costs you could be liable for and on what basis a solicitor may charge you.
  • Who pays the costs, you or the other side? – In this section we look at in what circumstances a client needs to pay their solicitor’s costs and when the other side is responsible for them. We also look at how a judge decides who pays what.
  • Challenging your solicitor’s costs or court costs – In this section we look at how you can challenge your solicitor’s bill or the court costs you have incurred, together with the timeframes involved. We also look at how the court assesses the costs and finally we give some examples of bad practice, which we hope will help to make sure they don’t happen to you!