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Are these Solicitor fees legal??


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My mum sadly passed away in October and my Dad as Executor needs to sort out Probate.

 

Dad is 88 and has never had to do anything like this before.

 

I therefore suggested that we speak to the Solicitor who drew up their will 8 years ago to see how much it would cost for him to do it.

 

I duly made the appointment and we attended a meeting with him before Christmas.

 

The Solicitor who had drawn up the original will has since died, so one of the other partners dealt with our inquiry.

 

In total the meeting took 90mins and it wasn't until the end the 90mins the Solicitor advised how much it would cost for him to deal with Probate (approx £3500).

I nearly fell off my chair and asked him how much he charged per hour and he advised £210 + Vat..

Dad pretty much told him there and then that there was no way he could afford that so we would probably have to do it ourselves.

 

Dad suggested that we would probably get a bill from him for his time for that meeting,

I thought we wouldn't because we had gone there for a quote which I didn't think would be chargeable.

 

I was wrong....Dad was right and he received a bill a couple of weeks ago for £378 including VAT.

 

Dad wanted to pay it (despite the fact that he's struggling on a pension), because he doesn't want any ill feeling

and this Practice still has the original Will which we need.

 

Myself and the rest of the family suggested that he shouldn't pay and he eventually, reluctantly agreed.

 

I duly dropped in a letter to the Practice last week advising that we were surprised to receive a bill.

The reply that has since come back from the Solicitor is very emotive, quite curt and uses an analogy along the lines of:

- if you went along to a dentist for an examination, why would you expect not to pay??

 

I thought we were going to get a quote for his services.

 

If I called in a builder to give me a quote for a new extension,

 

I wouldn't be charged for his time to visit the site compile the quote etc so what is the difference??

 

If I go to a dentist for an examination, I know I am going to be charged because I know I'm receiving treatment.

 

At no time were we ever advised that we would be charged for the time we were in his office

and we weren't advised of his hourly rate until the end of the meeting.

 

As Dad has also pointed out, if he pays the bill, approx £30 of it was time spent when the Solicitor chatted about his lovely family!!!

There is also a note on the invoice about late payments being charged 8% interest which is a bit scary.

Any payment Dad does make is obviously late now.

 

So, my questions to anyone who may be able to advise are:-

 

1) Is this bill payable (bearing in mind we were never told that we were being charged for his time or were advised his hourly rate until the end of the meeting)

2) If Dad does have to pay it, is the 8% liable even though he has disputed it within their time scales.

 

Dad and I both feel that the 90 minutes we spent in his office was excessive. I agree we gained some interesting information about dealing with Probate but we never asked for it and would happily have done without it had we known that every minute we were there talking/listening was costing £4.20!!!!

 

I'm in unknown territory here so any advice or information would be very gratefully received.

Are we being naive thinking we shouldn't be charged?? If he has to pay it, then so be it, but the rest of us think the Solicitor is acting very unprofessionally.

 

Thank you for reading my post.

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''Fee earning'' solicitors rates are laid down, so you may not have seen a senior solicictor, whose rate per hour would be much higher, you should approach a senior partner in the firm concerned, if you are not satisfied the contact the Solicitors Regulation Authority, imo for 90 minutes the fee charged is correct.

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Before anything, I would just like to offer my sincere condolences for the loss of your Mum. It must be a very difficult time for you, even more so when the people you go to for help end up billing you on the sly.

 

The Legal Ombudsman service produces some excellent publications on how best to deal with solicitors; an overview of which can be found here. The guides cover things like costs and the complaints procedure and it's always a good place to start.

 

If you look at "An ombudsman's view of good costs service" (available here as a pdf) page 5 states:

 

Initial consultation meeting

Some firms offer free initial consultation meetings. It is reasonable for a lawyer to charge an initial consultation fee if they wish to, but they must make any charges and conditions clear to a consumer before the appointment is made. The charge made must be reasonable. The consumer should know where they stand when they walk through the door and not hear of any charge, if there is one, at the consultation.

 

 

If the solicitor failed to do this then I would politely point them in the direction of the guidance and ask for the invoice to be cancelled. There is even a case study provided in which the Legal Ombudsman sides with the client who wasn't given advance warning of the costs, so I'd be surprised if the solicitor didn't budge.

 

You may also want to have a read through this link if you want to deal with the estate yourselves. In a lot of cases it's a straight forward albeit time consuming process; the Consumer Advice Bureau guidance should at least point you in the right direction.

 

Best of luck.

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The Solicitors' Code of Conduct provides that solicitors should "clearly explaining your fees and if and when they are likely to change" - see http://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/handbook/code/part2/content.page. To be fair, I would expect to pay for a meeting longer than 30minutes, especially as the meeting clearly went beyond just giving you a quote, but if you thought it was a free initial consultation and weren't told anything about the costs then I don't see how he can charge.

 

I assume nothing was discussed when you made the appointment?

 

The bill will outline how to challenge the bill and make a complaint. It is worth following this process. I would be proactive and raise this to the Legal Ombudsman if you can't get a resolution within the timescales set out on the LO website - it should be quick, easy and free for you to escalate this dispute to the LO. On the other hand, if the solicitor ends up taking you to court and you lose, you would end up paying extra costs.

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I have exchanged a couple of letters so far, the most recent of which I replied to this weekend & directed him to the firm's own website & the ombudsman's view of costs suggested by Foxmorris. Both state that fees should have been advised to us in advance. I have heard that this firm doesn't hang around with regards to chasing unpaid bills through the County Court, but surely they have no defence so their claim wouldn't be successful anyway.

Thank you for Ombudsman link. I shall get in touch with them today.

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I have received a very short and sweet letter this morning from the solicitor as follows:-

 

"It is counter-productive for us to continue with this line of correspondence and I would rather write this off as an unfortunate and thankfully, an isolated esperience."

 

So whilst the Solicitor hasn't admitted that he was in the wrong, at least my dad won't have to part with £378 for nothing!

 

Many thanks to everyone who took the time to offer me advice. I have learnt a valuable lesson about dealing with Solicitors.

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