Solicitors estimation has more than doubled is this allowed

Hi,  I am going through probate which has become contentious so, as a beneficiary, challenging the executor, I have appointed a solicitor.  The estimate that I received from the solicitor, by email was between £1,500 - £5,000.  The first invoice I received was over 2 months from instruction, and was already more than the estimate it was for £7,190.40.  The terms of instruction did not change and the law firm is stating that it was just an estimation.  I stated that whilst its an estimate, it surely has to be close to the estimation.  The Amount paid to date is £11,000 for an estimate of £1,500 - £5,000.  In addition, no invoice was presented for the first month work, which would have drawn our attention to costs far exceeding estimation.  The law firm is stating that whilst they provided an estimation of costs, their terms of business inform a client that the costs could be anywhere between £1,500 and £25,000.  I argued that the subsequent email received (ie after signing client terms), provided an estimation based upon the issues to be addressed, so surely this overrides their general terms of business.  Could someone please advice thank you very much 

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  • born_again
    born_again Posts: 13,520
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    Not really sure if this drops under consumer rights as Legal matters like this, especially given the contentious action here, can cost in some cases more than the money left depending on how far they go.

    I would be asking 
    solicitor for a breakdown of costs. If you do not agree then you could be looking at a complaint & letting it go all the way. 

    Are you contesting, or is someone else?
    Life in the slow lane
  • Keep_pedalling
    Keep_pedalling Posts: 16,116
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    The solicitors will not be doing this on a fixed price, and costs associated with contentious probate can quickly escalate. All solicitors have a complaints procedure and once you have exhausted this you next step is the solicitors regulator. The problem you faceing is that your legal action is still ongoing so you may need to find a new solicitor to continue.

    I would certainly be worried about how much this is going to cost especially if you lose and costs are awarded against you.
  • eskbanker
    eskbanker Posts: 29,763
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    Solicitors estimation has more than doubled is this allowed

    their terms of business inform a client that the costs could be anywhere between £1,500 and £25,000
    So the answer to the question in the title would appear to be 'yes'.

    However, the question of whether it's reasonable will inevitably be more nuanced, and I'd have thought that it'll depend on the underlying reason, in terms of what's changed - even though the terms of instruction may not have changed, it's presumably plausible that the work is more complex than initially believed, or that it's proving more time-consuming to gain access to documentation, etc.  Has the solicitor refused to engage in that sort of discussion about justification?
  • Thank you for your feedback.  So this gets really messy, my solicitor was chasing solicitors that had been closed as they were taken over by another member if their group ie a legal umbrella law firm.  This takeover happened before I instructed my solicitor but I was not aware that the solicitors office had been closed.  I have asked my solicitor how come they was not aware of the take over, surely they do due diligence in small law firms following instructions to act?  So whilst chasing was necessary, I do not think that the legal costs going nearly 3 times the estimate is justified.  I need to fight this and I am fighting this in accordance with their complaints procedure,  I was reaching out to see if there was any legal precedent to use to fight them on the serious uplift to their original estimation as the instructions had not changed.  Can you please share your thoughts thank you 
  • eskbanker
    eskbanker Posts: 29,763
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    So this gets really messy, my solicitor was chasing solicitors that had been closed as they were taken over by another member if their group ie a legal umbrella law firm.  This takeover happened before I instructed my solicitor but I was not aware that the solicitors office had been closed.  I have asked my solicitor how come they was not aware of the take over, surely they do due diligence in small law firms following instructions to act?
    I think the bolded word is key - they'd only start acting after they'd been instructed, i.e. why would they do any sort of due diligence before you'd agree to engage them?

    So whilst chasing was necessary, I do not think that the legal costs going nearly 3 times the estimate is justified.  I need to fight this and I am fighting this in accordance with their complaints procedure
    How much of the increase are they attributing to the difficulties dealing with the firm that was closed/taken over?

    I was reaching out to see if there was any legal precedent to use to fight them on the serious uplift to their original estimation as the instructions had not changed.  Can you please share your thoughts thank you 
    It would surprise me if there was a meaningful legal precedent that related to circumstances sufficiently similar to yours to be useful, but happy to be proved wrong.  An estimate is no more and no less than that, i.e. it's not a fixed quotation, but if you plan to demonstrate that the estimate wasn't provided in good faith, or that they conducted unbudgeted activities that were reasonably foreseeable, that's potentially quite a high bar....
  • Agree with everything eskbanker has said. It’s well known that legal costs can spiral, especially as they have a tendency to bill you for everything they can (even the paper they present information to you on)! 

    You can of course ask for a more realistic estimate now that they understand the work. But they wouldn’t do any due diligence before your case, and that’s why the estimate is so large. It also depends on how the quote was given. If it was prefaced with ‘all being will, it will cost…’ is always going to be a low estimate as things don’t go well, especially if there’s disputes! 

    Go back and get a more realistic quote. Then take it from there. Potentially could add in a win-fee to subsidise the cost of the work currently, but there’s pros and cons to those. 
  • john1
    john1 Posts: 403
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    Have a google around  "estimate versus actual professional legal fees" there is quite a bit of information  Basically the Solicitors should provide fairly accurate costings  and advise when these are reached  I was involved a number of years ago in a legal case where the cost exceeded the estimate by a large factor. However the final cost were reduced when challenged. 
    See this link https://anthonygold.co.uk/latest/blog/ang_articles_accurate_costs_estimates  
  • DullGreyGuy
    DullGreyGuy Posts: 8,905
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    RefluentBeans said:
    It’s well known that legal costs can spiral, especially as they have a tendency to bill you for everything they can (even the paper they present information to you on)! 
    Legal costs can certainly be very high and can get out of control but I disagree that they always bill for absolutely everything they could. Do a lot of work with big legal firms on complex transactions and frequently a partner will decide to attend a meeting uninvited but then not bill for that time, sometimes not billing for the meetings they were invited to. Hourly rates are probably much higher to the OP's though!


    To the OP - the engagement pack should have explained to you that what you are actually agreeing to is their billable rate. The estimate is just that, an estimate, its not a fixed price quote. You can certainly put in a complaint and in that ask for an explanation as to why costs are deviating so far from estimate and you may find that one of your relatives are being a pain and driving up the time the lawyers are having to spend dealing with a torrent of petty disputes/complaints etc
  • Okell
    Okell Posts: 571
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    john1 said:
    Have a google around  "estimate versus actual professional legal fees" there is quite a bit of information  Basically the Solicitors should provide fairly accurate costings  and advise when these are reached  I was involved a number of years ago in a legal case where the cost exceeded the estimate by a large factor. However the final cost were reduced when challenged. 
    See this link https://anthonygold.co.uk/latest/blog/ang_articles_accurate_costs_estimates  
    @wendyrogers -  I suggest you read in detail the summary linked to in the above quote, and then use it to provide ammunition for your argument against your solicitors.

    I'm not a lawyer, and this isn't legal advice, but from what I can make out:

    1.  Your solicitors had a duty to ensure that their original estimate - despite being just an estimate - was reasonably accurate so as to allow you to make an informed decision about whether to commence litigation.

    2.  Solicitors can't just charge you more than the original estimate because their estimate was too low.  They need to explain and to justify significnat variances to you.

    3.  Costs should really only vary significantly from the estimate in the event of significanlty unusual developments or changes in the known facts.

    4.  The solicitors should keep their clients regularly updated as to the extent that their costs are escalating and might exceed the original estimate so that their clients can make a meaningful and informed decision as to whether to carry on.

    5.  Even an express term in the estimate that costs might exceed the estimate does not necessarily allow the solicitors to charge more.

    6.  In the cases discussed the judges did not allow solicitors to charge their clients more than 15% on top of the original estimates.  15% was allowed because estimates are only estimates

    As this applies to your situation:

    (a) You received your first invoice 2 months after you gave instructions, and that invoice was already 40% higher than the original estimate.  Had the solicitors not warned you of this?

    (b)  To date you have already paid more than twice the original estimate.  Have your solicitors kept you informed as to how their costs were escalting?

    (c) I can't quite follow your explanation about your solicitors having to chase another firm that had closed.  I would not have thought that that was significantly unusual, but I don't really understand what you mean.  If your solicitors want to charge you double the original estimate because of this "significant development" they need to explain and justify it to you.  It's up to you whether you think their explanation is acceptable or not.  None of us here know the background - only you do.

    Generally I'd echo what others have said that contended probate* can be very expensive.  You haven't given any detail as to what the case involves, but - to be honest - I'm a bit surprised that your estimate was as low as from £1500 to £5000.

    Did you get estimates from other firms?  Do you think your solicitors might have deliberately given you a low estimate?  If they did, they can't charge you more just because the original estimate was too low.

    As I said, the above is not legal advice - just thoughts as to how you could assemble an argument to put to your solicitors.

    Good luck.


    *Also not something to be undertaken lightly.  People's brains fly out of the window when arguing over wills and they lose all powers of reason.  Solicitors love it...
  • TELLIT01
    TELLIT01 Posts: 16,230
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    I haven't fully read all the previous comments, but I would hope/expect that the solicitors would inform a client once the billing reached near the top of the estimated cost.  At least then the customer could make an informed decision whether to continue or not.  I do agree that it's probably virtually impossible even to give an accurate estimate of the cost of a contentious legal situation.
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