Why is this important?
Using a solicitor
This information applies to Scotland only
- Do you need a solicitor
- Choosing a solicitor
- Consulting a solicitor
- Solicitors’ costs
- The solicitor's bill
- Complaints about solicitors
Solicitors are not the only people who can provide legal advice. Legal help may be available from:-
- other professionals - for example, an accountant who can give advice on tax and company law;
- advice centres, such as the Citizens Advice Bureaux, housing advice centres, money advice centres, law centres;
- other organisations, such as trade unions and motoring organisations.
You may act for yourself in court proceedings; if you act for yourself, you may have a friend or lay representative to assist you in court.
If you need a solicitor you should choose one who has experience in the appropriate area of law.
A local advice agency such as a law centre or Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) should be able to recommend which local solicitors have experience in the appropriate area of law. A CAB can also provide information on how to find an appropriate solicitor through the Law Society of Scotland. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
If you are in custody at a police station, or have been charged, you can obtain free legal advice under the duty solicitors’ scheme. If you are at court, the arrangements for providing the solicitor will vary.
If you need more information about the duty solicitors’ scheme you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. In some cases, a CAB can refer you to an organisation which can offer free legal help. You can also find details of solicitors on the Law Society of Scotland's website www.lawscot.org.uk. Solicitors who are registered to carry out legal assistance work can be found on the registers on the Scottish Legal Aid Board's website at: www.slab.org.uk. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
When you have chosen your solicitor you will need to make an appointment. In most circumstances you would be given an appointment within 5 working days. If the matter is urgent the solicitor should try and arrange an earlier appointment.
You should take all relevant documents to the appointment and it may be helpful to prepare in advance a list of questions for the solicitor.
You should take a form of identification with you to the interview, such as a current passport or driving licence. You should check with the solicitor beforehand exactly which documents you need to take to the interview.
A solicitor must comply with certain rules and standards laid down by the Law Society. The solicitor is expected, for example, to give you certain information at the first interview. There is a comprehensive leaflet about these standards available from the Law Society for Scotland at www.lawscot.co.uk. This information includes:-
- how the solicitor intends to deal with the problem
- what the solicitor’s next step is
- information about costs
- the expected timescale of the case
- who in the firm should be contacted if there is a problem with the service offered.
You should make sure you understand what the solicitor has told you and should not be afraid to ask questions.
During the case the solicitor should keep you regularly informed of progress even if there are no significant developments.
It is against the law for your solicitor to discriminate against you because of your age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, sex, sexual orientation, race, religion or belief. In addition, solicitors’ professional rules say that a solicitor should not discriminate against you because of your age. You can make a complaint about discrimination by:
- your own solicitor, or
- the solicitor who is acting for someone against you.
More about making a complaint.
At the beginning of the case the solicitor must give you information about the likely cost of the case and how the charge is calculated, for example, a fixed fee, an hourly rate or a percentage fee (for example when buying and selling houses).
In some cases, for example, personal injury cases, you may be able to enter into a speculative fee agreement (no win, no fee) with the solicitor. This means that the amount you will pay will depend on whether you win or lose your case. If you lose your case, you will have to pay the costs of the other side and your own solicitor's outlays. You will normally be asked to take out insurance to cover this situation. If you win your case, you will usually pay your solicitor's fee plus a 'success fee' from the damages and expenses you receive from the other side. You cannot enter into a speculative fee agreement if you are receiving legal aid.
If you are considering entering into a speculative fee agreement, you must be clear about what the terms of the agreement will entail, and you should consult an experienced adviser, for example at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
The costs of the case will not be charged according to the result, unless you and the solicitor have previously agreed otherwise.
The solicitor should discuss how the costs are to be met and whether you are eligible for legal aid. If the solicitor does not do legal aid work, s/he should still explain the advantages of legal aid to you if you are eligible, and give you the opportunity of going to a solicitor who does do legal aid work.
For details about help with legal costs see Help with legal costs.
If the solicitor is holding money on your behalf it must be kept in an interest bearing account, and you are entitled to interest on the amount held.
The solicitor’s bill will be made up of three elements: outlays, fees and VAT.
Outlays are the expenses the solicitor has had to pay out on your behalf - for example, the cost of a valuation survey by a surveyor. Fees cover the professional services carried out by the solicitor on your behalf. If the work was court work, the fees that the solicitor can charge are subject to court rules and scales. There are no scales that regulate non-court work, but the charges must be fair and reasonable. VAT will be charged on the fees and some outlays.
If you think the bill is too high, you can:-
- ask the solicitor for a detailed account
- ask a court to look at the bill.
Getting a detailed bill from the solicitor
You can write to the solicitor asking for full details of how some or all of the charges on the bill were worked out. This letter should also include a request for a written reply. Items such as stamp duty for buying a house are fixed amounts and cannot be questioned.
Asking a court to examine the bill
This procedure can be used for any work done by a solicitor, and is known as "taxation". A court can examine the whole bill, and can either approve it or reduce it. (It can also increase it, but this is not common).
The court makes a charge for carrying out a taxation. If it decides that the bill is too high the solicitor will have to pay the charge. However, if the court decides that the bill is reasonable, you will have to pay it, in addition to the bill itself.
For information on challenging a solicitor’s bill you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
You may be dissatisfied with your solicitor for a number of reasons - for example, you may have problems with legal aid, and/or you may be dissatisfied with the outcome of the case. Your solicitor has not made the decisions about these aspects of your legal action so you cannot formally complain to the solicitor about them. However, if you are dissatisfied with the way the case was handled by the solicitor - for example, delays, or losing documents or money or how s/he behaved towards you, you can complain. The solicitor can also tell you where to complain to about legal aid or the outcome of your case.
|1||Complain to the firm of solicitors|
|2||Complain to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC)|
|3||Scottish Legal Complaints Commission decides if there is a complaint and who will investigate it|
|4||What to do if you are unhappy about the way the complaint has been handled|
Step 1: Complain to the firm of solicitors
In all cases the complaint has to be made first to the firm's internal complaints procedure. Many complaints are resolved at this stage. If you try to skip this stage the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission will treat your complaint as ‘premature’. If your complaint does not get resolved at this stage you can make a complaint to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.
Step 2: Complain to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
When your complaint is not resolved by your solicitor or the firm, you can complain to an agency called the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. It is a gateway for all complaints about legal practitioners.
If your complaint is about the conduct of a legal practitioner it will refer the complaint on to either the Law Society of Scotland or the Faculty of Advocates. Many complaints are about a mixture of the service you got and the way the legal professional behaved.
There is lots of detail about how to complain and what to complain about on the website of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission.
You have to send a complaint in writing on a form from:
The Scottish Legal Complaints Commission
The Stamp Office
10 - 14 Waterloo Place
Tel: 0131 528 5111
Fax: 0131 528 5100
Step 3: Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (SLCC) decides if there is a complaint and who will investigate it
If the Commission decides to investigate the complaint the Commission will contact the professional body or solicitors firm to get the papers in the case.
When the complaint is about the service that was provided by the solicitor the SLCC investigates the complaint.
When the complaint is about the conduct of the solicitor it is passed to the Law Society of Scotland to investigate.
When the complaint is a mixture of both types of complaint a decision is taken by the SLCC about how it should be handled but it also has a duty to liaise with the professional organisation that would handle the conduct complaint. The general approach is that unless a conduct issue is particularly serious or urgent the SLCC will investigate the complaint about service first then pass the conduct complaint on to the appropriate professional body.
Step 4: What to do if you are unhappy about the way the complaint has been handled
Your complaint may have been dealt with by the SLCC. If it was and you are unhappy with the way it was dealt with you can use the SLCC’s complaints procedure on their website: www.scottishlegalcomplaints.org.uk/how-to-complain/unhappy-with-our-service
When your complaint has been about conduct and investigated by another professional organisation but you are unhappy with the way it was handled you can complain to the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. It is called a ‘handling complaint'. You can get more information about it on their website at www.scottishlegalcomplaints.org.uk/how-to-complain/handling-complaints
Service and Conduct complaints
The time limit for complaints about service or conduct is 12 months. The 12 month limit starts to run from the end of the service provided or when you became aware of the matter causing you concern, or from the occurrence of the conduct issue. Complaints can be accepted outside the twelve month limit, but only in very exceptional circumstances.
You must contact the SLCC about this type of complaint within 6 months of the date on which the professional body wrote to you with their decision. If you contact the SLCC after this date, it cannot consider your complaint.
Complaint was made before 1 October 2008
When you made your complaint before 1 October 2008 you will have to find out how it is progressing from either the Law Society of Scotland or the Faculty of Advocates. Contact details for these two organisations are:
Faculty of Advocates
Tel: 0131 226 2881
Fax: 0131 225 3642
Professional negligence and damages
When you have suffered actual financial loss because of errors or omissions by your solicitor you should seek legal advice about the best way to proceed with your complaint.