Finding a solicitor: costs, regulation, what you should look out for

Updated on 03 September 2019

Need a solicitor but have no idea how you can find one? We reveal what you need to know, including what free online resources are available, how much it might cost, what to expect and how to complain if things go wrong.

When do you need a solicitor?

Throughout your lifetime, there will be many time-consuming and stressful things you may do, such as buying or selling a house or even drawing up a will to prepare for the worst.

Luckily, solicitors can help with these stressful life events by offering legal advice and assistance when people need it most.

A solicitor’s responsibilities are not limited to advice and assistance alone.

They can help firms tackle the legal aspects of commercial transactions and help protect individuals’ rights, as well as ensure they receive compensation if they are treated unfairly.

Solicitors work directly with clients on a range of cases, including:

  • Personal injury;
  • Family law issues such as divorce,
  • Criminal law;
  • Wills and probates;
  • General administration of estates;
  • Immigration;
  • Buying and selling houses ­(you can also choose a conveyancer)

On top of this, solicitors may support the community by undertaking free legal work or using some of their time to give free help to those unable to pay for legal aid.

Solicitors can specialise in many areas, so it’s easy to be intimidated by the prospect of finding one that’s right for you.

This guide should help you every step of the way whether it’s searching for a solicitor, making sure they’re the right choice for you, and how to complain if you’re unhappy with the service provided.

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Last will and testament. (Image: Shutterstock)

How to find the right solicitor

Firstly, it’s important to understand that solicitors tend to specialise in one or two areas of the law.

So, it’s vital you find the right one for you as a solicitor specialising in settling divorces may not be the best person if you need help writing a will.

The Law Society has a free tool to help you find organisations or individuals offering legal services in England and Wales that are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

You can search the database of nearly 200,000 legal professionals by the type of legal issue and location of the legal adviser.

But what if you have no idea what your options are, what type of solicitor you need or want more information?

Legal Choices, which is run by legal regulators in England and Wales, is a good place to start if you have a legal issue and are unsure of what to do.

The site offers tips on how to survive all sorts of issues and details of all legal regulators – there are eight in total. 

Whether you will need a solicitor depends on your personal circumstances.

For example, you will need a solicitor for reserved legal services such as the conveyancing process, probate and for appearing in certain courts.

But non-reserved activities such as most employment law and will writing, can be provided by unregulated individuals without particular training or qualifications.

Some will writing firms might not have solicitors, be regulated or not have a minimum recommended level of professional indemnity insurance. 

Professional indemnity insurance aims to cover the cost of any claims against the company by a client for any losses suffered due to their work. 

But they may be an option for those with simple wills or if they are not bothered about having a certain level of protection.

Man signing employment contract. (Image: Shutterstock)

What you need to consider

It’s advisable to shop around for a solicitor.

Often, people may depend on personal recommendations or on local solicitors, but there is more that can be done before signing on the dotted line.

You should check whether the law firm is genuine and regulated by the SRA, which you can do via this handy search tool.

It’s also worth checking a solicitor’s record to see if it has had any legal action taken against it via the SRA’s free search tool.

In some cases, the SRA can punish a solicitor for wrongdoing or even strike off the firm completely.

Even if a solicitor has been in legal trouble before, it’s worth considering whether it’s connected to the service you need and if you prefer a solicitor with a completely clean record.

Regulated firms by the SRA can also be identified by logos on a regulated solicitor’s site, which when you click on it will confirm compliance to the regulator’s rules.

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Regulated vs unregulated

It’s easy to overlook the importance of regulated solicitors, but it can add vital protection at a time when you may need it most.

If a firm is regulated by the SRA, it means:

  • All staff must work to a high standard set by the regulator;
  • The business must have the right level of insurance to protect you in case something goes wrong;
  • You may be able to claim for money back via the SRA’s Compensation Fund if the solicitor loses or owes you money;
  • You can complain to the SRA if you believe the firm is guilty of misconduct

Of course, unregulated solicitors may have some protection or insurance in place if things go wrong, but always be sure to check.

Bank notes spread out next to a calculator. (Image: Shutterstock)

How much does a solicitor cost?

Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to this question as it depends on your case, how complex it is and a handful of other factors.

Regulated firms must give you an indication of the fees to expect, potential additional charges and a likely timescale of how long the case will take on its site.

There may be a breakdown of charges on an hourly basis or based on the complexity of the case, with the simplest cases usually being the cheapest.

For example, a simple employment law case at one SRA regulated firm costs between £3,500 and £5,000 but can jump to around £20,000 for highly complex cases.

Additional charges may include a solicitor attending a tribunal hearing.

If a solicitor is not being transparent about pricing, you should be cautious about using them as you could get hit with higher than expected costs.  

Also, having a list of prices beforehand could help you compare different solicitors if you’re struggling to choose between a few.

How do I get in touch and prepare?

You can get in touch with a solicitor online by email or over the phone to book an appointment.

As for what documentation you’ll need, the solicitor should tell you what they need, which can vary on a case by case basis.

“By way of example, if a person is buying a house, the solicitor may ask to see some form of ID such as a passport, utility bills and bank statements to comply with anti-money laundering legislation,’ says The Law Society.

What should you expect from your solicitor?

If you’ve never used a solicitor before, it can be hard to know what to expect.

“The speed with which a matter is dealt with will depend on the circumstances of the case,” advises The Law Society.

“For example, if an urgent injunction is needed in a domestic violence matter, a solicitor will act swiftly to protect a client.”

Dilpreet Bhagrath, customer experience manager at Trussle believes great communication and customer service are key attributes a good solicitor should have.

“Solicitors tend to take on a high volume of business, so they need to have great customer service,” comments Bhagrath.

She says the sign of a good solicitor is one that provides regular updates on your case – without you having to chase them up.

They will also be aware of the timescale involved so you know what to expect.

On top of that, solicitors should be flexible about how to respond, whether it’s via email, text or even an online portal, which may be handy for those hoping to avoid direct contact.

Couple with keys to their new home. (Image: Shutterstock)

Buying or selling a house? Consider a conveyancer

While you can use a solicitor to buy or sell a house, HomeOwners Alliance recommends using a conveyancer, which charge on average between £850 and £1,500, plus the cost of disbursements.

Licensed conveyancers are specialist property lawyers with no extensive training in many aspects of the law, so they are likely to be less expensive than a solicitor.

One exception to using a conveyancer would be if the transaction was particularly difficult, such as a dispute over boundaries or if the sellers are getting divorced. 

Paula Higgins, chief executive officer at HomeOwners Alliance, says conveyancers have relationships with mortgage providers, which makes them particularly helpful.

But the conveyancer must also be on the mortgage lenders panel so the mortgage provider can ensure the money they are lending is safe.

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Check those commissions!

It’s also important you get the right conveyancer that will act in your best interests.

“Get three quotes and three recommendations before choosing a conveyancer,” advises Higgins.

Some developers or estate agents may recommend a conveyancer, but they may not be completely independent – as the estate agent may get a juicy commission (of up to 50%) for the referral.

Higgins says you should get different quotes from various conveyancers and even your estate agent for comparison, as well as do your own research.

Bhagrath agrees and advises being honest with your solicitor about your situation and what you expect, so you can get an accurate quote.

She also recommends talking to family or friends about their experiences and checking reviews on Trustpilot.

If you want to compare conveyancer quotes online, you could use HomeOwners Alliance

You can also hire some conveyancers on a “no sale, no fee” basis although you may get charged even if the property transaction doesn’t complete.

Approximately a third of all property transactions fail according to a survey by Which? in 2016.

So, Higgins recommends getting homebuyers protection insurance, so you get most of your fees back if the transaction falls through.

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Woman talking to solicitor. (Image: Shutterstock)

Mortgage deals: can you get cashback?

If you’re a homeowner, you’re probably familiar with the concept of remortgaging but may not be aware that you need a solicitor.

According to Bhagrath, lots of mortgage deals include free legal advice or offer cashback, which can span from £250 to £500.

Using a site like Trussle, you can try and find a solicitor to match the cashback on offer or free legal advice.

In some cases, you may be able to get legal aid from the Government to help with legal advice costs,  but eligibility depends on the type of case and your financial circumstances. 

Mortgage brokers may get a referral fee, but Bhagrath believes you can access good solicitors you may not be able to find elsewhere.

She also advises people to not restrict themselves to local solicitors as you don’t actually have to physically visit them.

You may get better value for money looking outside your local area, while your documents are signed and completed via email or post.

How to remortgage your home

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Unhappy with your solicitor?

If you’re happy with your solicitor, there are several courses of action you can take.

Your first point of call should be your solicitor, who should have a clear complaints procedure if they are regulated.

If you’re not happy with the resolution (or lack of one) and it’s a service issue, get in touch with the Legal Ombudsman.

They can look into your complaint and award compensation of up to £50,000 if need be.

Outside of service issues – such as misconduct or an unethical action – you need to report it to the SRA.

The regulator will look into your case, check if the solicitor is fit for practice and potentially refer them to an independent court, where they could be fined.

In certain instances, you may get your money back but what is more likely to happen is you can claim money via the solicitor’s insurance, which they should have if they are regulated.

You may be able to claim money back from SRA’s Compensation Fund if the solicitor has been dishonest, but this is a discretionary fund, so it’s not guaranteed.

Did you find our guide helpful? Let us know in the comments below.


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