This article provides advice on how to work effectively with your solicitor in order to process your divorce whilst maintaining some control over the level of legal costs.
What to use your solicitor for (and what not to)
You can instruct your solicitor to do as much or as little work for you as you wish. Obviously, the more work you do yourself, the less your legal costs will be. For example, you could use your solicitor in any of the following ways:
- To give you advice only, with you doing everything else. Note, however, that your solicitor may not be able to give as detailed advice as they would if they had full conduct of the matter, as there may not be time to go through all the evidence at an advice meeting.
- To prepare court documents for you, with you filing the documents with the court.
- To prepare and file court documents for you, but note that this will entail the solicitor going on the court record as acting on your behalf, which means that the court will send all papers to your solicitor, rather than to you, and your solicitor will charge you for forwarding the papers to you. (You can put yourself back on the court record at any time, if you wish.)
- To represent you at court hearings, with you doing everything else, although the solicitor will also have to do work preparing for the hearing, for which they will charge you.
- To provide a full service, including advising you throughout, preparing and filing court documents, and representing you at court hearings.
Do not use your solicitor as a 'shoulder to cry on' - remember, they will be charging you for their time, and they are not (usually) counsellors anyway. Do not use them as a means to 'get back' at your spouse - this will only increase costs. You can also reduce costs by obtaining documents yourself (e.g. pension valuations), rather than paying for the solicitor to do it for you.
Getting the most from your solicitor
Some general points:
- Follow the advice that your solicitor gives to you, unless you are absolutely certain that the advice is incorrect. (If in doubt, you can seek a second opinion from another solicitor.)
- Make sure that your solicitor understands and follows your instructions.
- Provide all the information and documentation that the solicitor requests from you. They will not be able to do the best job for you without all of the evidence that they require. On the other hand, do not simply pass all your personal papers to your solicitor without sorting out what is relevant - your solicitor will only charge you for doing this work for you.
- Do not hide any information from your solicitor. For example, any material fact not disclosed could make a settlement void.
- Do not contact your solicitor unless you have good reason to do so, and give them time to do the work for you. Remember, solicitors charge for all telephone calls, so unnecessary calls will only increase your bill. The solicitor should keep you informed of the progress of your matter.
- If you are not happy with anything about the service that your solicitor is providing, raise this with them - do not 'stew' on any dissatisfaction - see the section below on resolving issues with your solicitor.
Managing solicitor costs
As mentioned above, at the outset of the matter your solicitor should explain how and how much they charge, and should give you their best estimate as to how much the costs will be to complete the matter, including court fees and other expenses. This estimate should be updated whenever necessary, and at least every six months.
It is perfectly possible for you to put a limit on the costs to be incurred. The solicitor will not then be able to charge you more than that limit, without your agreement. The solicitor should inform you when they are close to reaching the limit, and explain that when they do, they will not be able to do any further work for you unless you agree to increase the limit.
Your solicitor will normally request a sum of money from you on account of their fees and expenses. This obviously helps the solicitor, but it also reduces the amount that you will have to pay later. Once the money on account has been used up, your solicitor may request a further sum on account. Obviously, you will be reimbursed for any money not used.
Another way of avoiding exceptionally large bills is to ensure that you are billed regularly. Most solicitors do send out regular bills, but there is nothing to stop you from requesting a bill at any time, or simply requesting an up to date figure of the amount of costs that have been incurred to date, or since the last bill.