If you are in need of legal advice or assistance, but you cannot afford to pay for it privately, you may be able to get free or affordable help. This guide will outline the costs of taking legal action and how you can go about meeting them.
You will have to pay court fees, which are determined by the amount of your claim and the track you choose to use. If you are a low-income earner, the fees may be reduced or waived altogether.
Expert opinion fee
Your dispute may call for an expert opinion to be introduced.
Typically, the court will request that you share the costs with the other side. However, if your case is ‘fast-track’ (between £10,000 and £20,000) or ‘multi-track’ (claims over £25,000 or for lesser amounts where the case involves complex points of law and evidence), you may have to make the full payment if the expert’s opinion differs from yours.
In a small claims case (that is, under £10,000), you can normally represent yourself but, if you engage the services of a solicitor, you will have to pay their fees even if you emerge victorious in the case.
The chances are that you will need to use a solicitor in the fast-track and multi-track. If you win, the court may order the other side to cover your costs. However, if they do not pay, you will be required to. If you lose your case, you cannot recoup the court costs and you may have to pay the other side’s costs too.
The type of problem you have and your financial situation will determine whether or not you get legal aid, which entitles you to free (or subsidised) legal advice.
You may live in an area where law centres give free legal advice.
They are manned by solicitors and specialist caseworkers and specialise in:
- Welfare benefits
- Community care
A law centre may take your case if legal aid is unavailable. Equally, it may have a contract to provide legal aid. You can get the details of your local law centre from the Law Centres Network website or you can email them using their contact form.
Solicitor’s fixed fee interview
Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can provide you with information about solicitors willing to devote half an hour of their time to give you legal advice for a fixed fee. This session can be helpful in deciding whether or not you have a case worth pursuing or defending.
The fixed fee interview scheme is not income tested. It is the same fee for everyone.
Conditional fee arrangements
If you have a civil matter that is not a family law case, you may be able to enter a conditional fee agreement with a solicitor. This way, if you lose the case, you will only have to pay the other side’s costs and solicitor’s expenses. If you win the case, your solicitor will be entitled to a higher fee.
Legal expenses insurance
Check your household car insurance or contents insurance policy because it may cover you for legal expenses insurance. The former normally covers the cost of pursuing losses due to accidents that were not your fault and extends to:
- Personal injury compensation
- Vehicle damage
- Uninsured losses, such as policy excess and car hire.
Your credit card may also be a source of legal expenses insurance, so it is worthwhile looking at its terms and conditions.
Legal expenses insurance decides how you receive legal advice and from whom you receive it – normally a solicitor or legal adviser approved by your insurance provider.
You may also be able to get free legal representation from your membership of a trade union or motoring organisation.
LawWorks may be able to sort out free legal assistance if you cannot get legal aid or afford to pay for legal advice. This is done via free advice clinics, mediation and casework.
Similarly, the Bar Pro Bono Unit (BPBU) can help those who are not eligible for legal aid but cannot afford private legal representation. However, your case needs to be referred to the BPBU by your solicitor, a CAB, law centre or MP.
You can contact the BPBU by calling 020 7092 3960 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am to 2pm or you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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