These FAQs are designed to provide a few useful pointers on how you can gain access to legal help through Conditional Fee Agreements (sometimes know as "no win, no fee". This system can allow legal representation to be provided to you irrespective of your means, with the solicitor recovering their fees only if you are successful.
It is open to an individual to fund their case from their own pocket, however, other options are available to those who want to pursue a case with legal representation, but who are not eligible for public legal funding.
The various funding methods available are:
These options can be undertaken on their own or as a combined policy. For instance conditional fee agreements can be undertaken with an insurance policy to cover any adverse costs orders.
You may also be able to obtain 'pro bono' advice and representation, where the lawyers concerned provide their services free of charge to their clients and for no commercial gain. For more information visit www.probonouk.net or ask at your local law centre or advice agency.
The term 'no win no fee' is used extensively and it can relate to a number of quite different agreements, but is generally used in the context of conditional fee agreements (cfas). These agreements remove some of the financial risks of taking legal action, but not all. If you win your case, you must pay your solicitor's fees and any expenses for items such as experts' reports and barrister's or other solicitor's opinions. These are known as disbursements. If you lose, you need pay no fees to your solicitor. However, you may have to pay your opponent's legal costs and both sides' disbursements. From November 2005 conditional fee agreements will be largely regulated through the Law Society's Professional Rules of Conduct, which set out what a solicitor must tell their client.
Conditional fee agreements were introduced in 1995 for a limited range of cases, and extended in 1998 to include all civil cases (with the exception of family proceedings). From April 2000 the success fee in a conditional fee agreement, and the cost of an after the event insurance policy taken out in an individual case, could be recovered from the losing opponent, leaving the winning party's damages largely intact. In November 2005 existing regulations were revoked, with the aim of simplifying CFAs and making them more transparent and easier to use for both solicitors and their clients. Solicitors are regulated in their use of CFAs by the Law Society.
The details of solicitors who will act under conditional fee agreements can be found in the Community Legal Service Directory, reference copies of which are available at a number of Community Legal Services information points, such as libraries. Alternatively, you can find this information on the Community Legal Service Website, CLS Direct or call their helpline on 0845 345 4345.
The Law Society can provide details of all approved solicitors in England and Wales and you can also contact solicitors' firms directly to find out whether they accept cases on a conditional fee agreement basis. Trade associations such as the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) and Motor Accident Solicitors Society (MASS) may be able to assist you in personal injury cases.
Whether a solicitor or insurer accepts the case on a conditional fee basis, or any other of the options of funding, has to be a matter for each individual firm, having considered the merits of the case and its likely outcome. A solicitor would have to be satisfied that prospects of success are sufficient. Different solicitors may have different opinions and it is wise to 'shop around' and speak to a number of solicitors.
Remember its 'No win, no fee' not 'Win, no fee' If you win your case, either at court or in a settlement before trial, you may have to pay your solicitors success fee and other costs out of your award. However your solicitor can usually will recover some of their costs from the losing party so you may only have to pay part, or the solicitors may be prepared to waive the difference. Your solicitor will be able to advise you what sums are payable in this situation. You should always get a written estimate of all the likely costs from your solicitor before they start work on your case, even though you may not have to pay them and ask for an explanation of their conditional fee agreement.
A success fee is a percentage increase a solicitor will charge his client in addition to his normal standard costs in the event of winning a case. The amount of percentage increase usually depends on the likelihood of winning and is based on the solicitor's normal charging rate (usually based on solicitors' hourly rate).
You may have to pay your own expenses such as court and expert witness fees and your opponent's legal fees (including their solicitors basic charges and success fee), insurance premiums and disbursements. To protect yourself you can take out Legal Expenses Insurance.
A Legal expenses insurance policy covers people for the potential costs of legal action. For example, if a policy holder wishes to make a claim against an institution or an individual the legal costs will be met by an insurance policy. Legal Expenses Insurance policies take two forms: Before the Event insurance and After the Event Insurance.
This term means that the insurance cover is taken out before anything has happened. When something happens to trigger the need for legal action, it is known as ‘ the event'. The insurance is paid on an annual basis, by paying a premium to an insurance company. It is usually available with an existing insurance policy such as household insurance. Before the Event insurance is also available for car insurance and will cover any uninsured loss related to road traffic accidents. It is also offered as a benefit to members of a trade union or association.
You should check if any of your existing insurance policies (for example car or house insurance) provide legal expenses insurance and, if so, the terms of that policy. If you have this kind of cover you may not need to enter into a conditional fee agreement, but it would pay your costs only if the insurance company thinks you have a good chance of winning. It will not cover any costs you may have to pay if you lose.
This term means the insurance is only taken out once the ‘event' has occurred to insure you against the risk of losing your case. For example, if an accident has already happened and somebody has decided to make a claim it is possible to take out a policy which will cover legal costs incurred as a result of the claim. It is usually used by people who do not have a Before the Event insurance. After the event insurance is purchased when a course of legal action has been decided upon. It is usually paid as a single premium. This insurance is often offered by solicitors and claim management companies. If you lose your claim the insurance company will pay your opponent's legal costs and expenses
If you took out After the Event insurance and you win it should be possible to get back most of your premium and legal costs from the losing side. Premiums for Before the Event insurance are not recoverable.
Your solicitor should draw up a Normal Contractual Agreement which is a contract between you and your solicitor about how he/she will charge you for taking on your case. Some solicitors will charge by the hour whilst others will offer to take on your case on a lump sum basis.
If you belong to a trade union or a membership organisation it is worth talking to your representative to see if they can help pay for any legal costs you may incur.