Solicitors' fees and charges

Solicitors are entitled to charge fees for the legal advice and representation they give you. Depending on what your case is about, there may also be other hidden costs along the way. This page explains more.

Why do I have to pay my solicitor?

If you're getting legal advice and representation from a solicitor, they are providing you with a specialised service and they're entitled to charge you for this. This is how they make a living.

If you go into a shop to buy something, you pay the price on the tag. You pay bills for the gas and electricity you use in your home. With solicitors, you pay a 'fee' for their services. It amounts to the same thing.

What will I be charged for?

Your solicitor is entitled to charge you for all the legal work they've done on your behalf. This includes things like:

  • the legal advice they've given you

  • meetings you've had with them

  • telephone calls they've had with you

  • telephone calls they've made on your behalf (for example, to your mortgage lender or landlord)

  • time spent negotiating with your opponent

  • time spent representing you in court, and

  • settling your case.

How much will I be charged?

Many people think that solicitors charge a fortune for what they do and can decide what to charge themselves. In fact, solicitors' fees have to be fair and reasonable.

Solicitors usually charge their fees on a 'time and line' basis or agree a fixed fee at the beginning of the case. Other factors can also affect the fee you've got to pay at the end of the day. These include:

  • how complicated your case turns out to be

  • how much money is involved

  • how much the property is worth (if you're buying a house or land, for example)

  • any specialised knowledge that's required

  • anything urgent that crops up

  • anything unusual that happens.

If the fee is worked out on a 'time and line' basis, this means that it's worked out by calculating how much time has been spent working on your case. The 'time' part of the calculation is worked out using 'units' of time - each unit is made up of six minutes of time. Each unit is individually charged at a set rate. The rate depends on how senior and experienced your solicitor is. Your solicitor will keep a note of the number of units of time they've spent dealing with your case and these will be added up at a later date to give the final fee. If they take too long to do something, that time can be 'written off' so that you won't be charged for it.

We live in a commercial world where businesses are always competing against each other and law firms are no exception. So, many firms will limit the amount they charge you (this is called 'restricting the fee') in certain circumstances to stay competitive.

You'll also have to pay value added tax (VAT) on top of your solicitor's fees. The amount of VAT you have to pay is set by the government and is a form of tax. It doesn't go to your solicitor.

Solicitors who provide legal aid services also have to show the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) that the work they're doing on your behalf is 'reasonable'. You can find more information on our page about legal aid. If you're buying a home, you might find our costs of buying a home content useful.

Will I be able to get an estimate of my solicitor's fees?

Yes. Ask your solicitor for a 'fee quote' in writing either the first time you speak to them on the phone or at the first meeting you have. They have to provide you with this under the Law Society of Scotland rules for solicitors.

However, bear in mind that the fee may go up if, for example:

  • your case gets more complicated

  • it takes longer to resolve the problem than originally thought

  • you need more legal advice

  • your case has to go to a higher court

  • you need an Advocate or solicitor-advocate to represent you. If this happens, you'll have to pay their fees as well as your solicitor's. This is very expensive and you should speak to your solicitor about this if it applies to you.

If any of these things happen, your solicitor is entitled to charge you for an extra work to be done so their fee may be higher than you expected. The way to get round this is to ask your solicitor to keep you updated if the cost of your case is going up. They'll be able to provide you with 'interim fee quotes' if necessary. You might even be able to agree that you'll pay their fees in chunks as the case progresses. This way, you can avoid being hit with a massive bill at the end of the case.

Will I have to pay the fees off all at once?

Not necessarily. Most solicitors will give you a set period of time - usually two weeks or 28 days - to pay off the whole amount.

However, if you're worried about paying it all at once, speak to your solicitor as early as possible about paying off their fees in instalments. They will usually be willing to agree something with you, as long as your proposed payments are reasonable and you stick to the agreement. Remember that their fees are their wages and they want to get paid for the work they've done for you.

Are there any other costs?

You may have to pay for other things, aside from your solicitor's fees, depending on what your case is about. These hidden extras are called 'expenses' and 'outlays' and often appear on your solicitor's bill, even though they're not part of the money they make.

Expenses and outlays can include things like:

  • court fees if you're involved in a court case (how much you have to pay depends on whether your case is being dealt with under small claims, summary cause or ordinary cause court procedure or if it's in the Court of Session)

  • the cost of getting any reports needed as evidence in your case (for example, a report from your doctor if you've had problems paying your rent because of depression).

If you go to court and lose your case, you might also have to pay some or all of your opponent's legal fees and expenses. You might have to pay this even if you're entitled to legal aid. For more information, read the page about what legal aid covers, contact the Scottish Legal Aid Board or speak to your solicitor.

Lots of hidden costs occur if you've bought or sold a house. These costs can mount up to a substantial amount of money. Your solicitor has to pay these costs to do all the legal work on your behalf and do their job properly. They usually need the money from you upfront and should tell you about it at an early stage in the process so you can budget for it. These 'outlays' include things like:

  • Land and Building Transaction Tax 

  • the cost of officially registering or recording the legal documents that give you ownership of the property with the Registers of Scotland

  • the cost of obtaining various search reports to make sure that you're not bankrupt and that the person you're buying from does actually own the property

  • the cost of getting copies of plans for any extensions or alterations to the house if this applies to you.

What if I'm not happy about what I've been charged?

If you're not happy about the bill, you should speak to your solicitor about it first. They will be able to go through their bill with you step by step and explain what everything is for. If you're still not happy, ask to speak to the client relations partner in the firm.

If there is still no agreement, your file can be sent to the Auditor of Court. The auditor will look at your file independently and decide whether or not the fee you've been charged is reasonable. It's important to realise that the Auditor won't necessarily agree that you've been overcharged and might even decide that your solicitor is entitled to charge you more. You can find out more about the Auditor on the Law Society of Scotland website.

You could also complain to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. Read our page on complaining about a solicitor for more information.

What about legal aid?

If your case is about housing law (for example, if your landlord is trying to evict you or you're having problems with rent arrears) you may be able to get help to pay for some (or all) of your legal costs from the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB). Have a look at our pages on what legal aid covers and applying for help from the Scottish Legal Aid Board for more information. You can also visit the SLAB website.

If you need to talk to someone, we’ll do our best to help. Get Help

Last updated: 31 March 2015

Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.

This content applies to Scotland only.

Get advice if you're in England