• June 2015
    "How to instruct a lawyer" or "how to keep my bill as small as possible"

    Experience has taught me that once a client has decided to instruct a solicitor (based on personal relationship, price, or personal recommendation), there are a number of things the client can do to make the process as quick and inexpensive as possible. So here are my top tips on this subject:

    1.            If you are involved in a dispute, make a chronological note of events as close in time to their occurrence. This helps put things into a logical order and remember vital detail. The fuller the picture the solicitor has, the better the advice you will get. If you want your will drafted, make a note of what you want to do before the meeting. Inevitably, in a Commercial and Commercial Property context, costs can escalate quickly when the basis of the original instructions/agreement are changed and documents have to be redrafted and advice reconsidered. What appears to the client to be a small change or changes can have a disproportionate knock on effect to the drafting of documents and indeed the basis of the advice given and the essence of the deal to be done (see the importance of agreeing Heads of Terms below).

    2.            Keep all documents such as  emails and correspondence  relating to the matter and hand them over. Solicitors can’t have too many pieces of paper!

    3.            Remember that like many professionals, solicitors have to comply with money laundering regulations and have to obtain proof of identity and proof of address for their clients and cannot open a file or accept money until it is done – so do supply your ID as soon as possible when requested.

    4.            Be clear on what you want your solicitor to do – for example, do you want him or her merely to advise on the contents of a new lease or amend/negotiate it on your behalf, investigate title, provide searches, raise enquiries. Whatever you decide, this will be confirmed in the client care letter/terms of engagement that is sent to you. This will explain how our charges are made up.

    5.            Put solicitors in funds in good time (e.g. to cover search and Land Registry fees in conveyancing, money for counsel’s fees, court costs).

    6.            Remember the importance of making all discussions and documentation with the other side of a transaction as ‘without prejudice’ and ‘subject to contract’ so as to avoid entering into an agreement prematurely before your solicitor has been able to advise on and negotiate, for example,  the Heads of Terms of an Agreement (“HoTs”)  in your best interests.   HoTs are the “bullet points” of the terms of an Agreement and can be contained within a two-page rather than a 20 to 40 page legal document.   If instructions relate to a commercial contract or business/share sale, agree HoTs with other side to make sure you and the other party are doing exactly the same deal. I often find that when these terms are written down, you find that this is not always the case. HoTs do not require legalese; just bullet-point the terms of the agreement. They will be marked as “subject to contract” and so will not be legally binding. It is better, simpler and cheaper to negotiate 2 sheets of A4 than a 20 to 40 page legal document. In a conveyancing transaction HoTs are produced by the estate agent. Check they are correct   As a Memorandum of Sale/HoTs are a template for drafting the legal documents.

    7.            Let your solicitor know if there are any events which will affect the timetable for the transaction/litigation – for example your annual holiday! If your solicitor knows when you are less contactable, this can be planned for.

    8.            Remember the receptionist to whom you make your call is unlikely to know much about your particular matter because of the volume of clients a firm deals with.  If the solicitor or secretary is not available, leave a message on voicemail, or ask to be called back.

    The overall theme is communication, something lawyers have not always been good at. Commercial transactions, transfers of property, litigation, or family disputes take time to deal with. These small differences can help to speed the process, and keep costs down.

    For further information contact Howard Wright, Consultant in our Commercial Department, on 01379 643555 or email

    This article provides only a general summary and is not intended to be comprehensive.  Special legal advice should be taken in any individual situation. 

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