You can challenge your solicitor's bill if you think the legal fees are too expensive. But, there is a set process to follow when disputing legal fees and charges made by a solicitor.
If you think your solicitor charged you too much, you can ask the Senior Courts Costs Office to make a 'detailed assessment' of the bill. You will get the bill reduced if the SCCO agrees that the charges are too high.
As a rule, discussing the problem with the solicitor can avoid the need to contact the court. Solicitors will have a specific complaints procedure for you to follow.
Some organisations offer free legal help and professional advice, such as:
Note: You should follow a different process to complain about a legal adviser (e.g. your solicitor's behaviour).
You cannot ask for a detailed assessment until you have applied to the court (see below). As a rule, the timescale for making an application to the court is within one (1) month of getting the bill from a solicitor.
In some cases, you can still apply to the court within one (1) year of getting the bill. But, the court is likely to ask you to make an advance payment of the amount owing (can be part payment or the full amount).
Providing the judge agrees that you got charged too much by your solicitor, you would get back the amount that you overpaid.
It may be possible to challenge your solicitor's bill - even after paying it in full. In very rare cases, you may also apply to the court when it has been more than 12 months since you received the legal fees.
Note: The court will only consider this type of application in special circumstances. So, you would need to explain the grounds for the delay as part of the application process.
The first step is to download Claim Form N208 (Civil Procedure Rules Part 8) and fill in three (3) copies. There will be a fee to pay (around £45).
Make a cheque payable to 'HMCTS' for the correct amount. Send it with a copy of your solicitor's bill, and all three copies of form N208, to the SCCO:
Senior Courts Costs Office
Royal Courts of Justice
Anyone living outside London can apply to a local District Registry instead. It is a court that handles certain types of High Court cases.
Note: If a county court dealt with the original case, and the bill from a solicitor is not more than £5,000, you can apply to the nearest county court.
The court is going to keep one of the copies of the claim form. They will send one copy to the solicitor and return the other to the claimant [you]. The court stamps all copies with an issue date.
Your solicitor will send you an 'acknowledgement of service' which confirms they have seen the application.
The solicitor may feel there is no need for a detailed assessment. If so, the court will ask you to attend a hearing by sending you a 'notice of hearing'. The document will state the date and venue of the hearing.
If your solicitor agrees to a 'detailed assessment' you will receive a letter from them. You should send a copy of this letter to the same court.
You can ask your solicitor to give their consent if they do not challenge the application. Doing so means the court can decide that neither party needs to attend the court hearing.
Both parties should present the case to a Costs Judge if there is a hearing. It can be a District Judge for hearings held outside of London borough. Take copies of all relevant documents along with you (as per the application).
The court will make a decision on whether to order a detailed assessment (or not). As a rule, you get the decision after the hearing or by post a few days later.
In most cases, you would be able make an appeal if you disagree with the decision of the court. But, you would need to get permission before making an appeal (by asking the Costs Judge at the hearing).
Leaflet EX340 explains how to appeal against a decision in civil and family court cases. It is a method used to ask the appeal court for permission after a refusal.
After a hearing, you would get a court order stating whether you can have a detailed assessment. If so, it would take place at another hearing.
Note: You must use Form N258C to make a request for detailed assessment hearing pursuant to an order under Part III of the Solicitors Act 1974. The associated court fee depends on the amount of the solicitor's bill.
You would need to pay your own costs (and the reasonable costs of the detailed assessment for the other party) when challenging your solicitor's bill, unless:
Note: The amount you pay in costs would depend on how much time the solicitor spends in court. As a rule, it is worked out from the hourly rate that solicitors charge.
How to Dispute Legal Fees in the United Kingdom