Fee Structure

As barristers cannot receive payment on account for services rendered, it is only possible to charge a fee for the current piece of work. It may still be possible to structure your fees so that this is fair for both you and the client: you might allow for staged payments for a hearing, to cover advice on evidence, a skeleton argument, and an appearance fee, in the months and weeks leading up to it, which would both help a client’s budgeting and save you having to remit funds if the hearing was vacated late in the day following settlement of the proceedings.

You may be lucky enough to work with solicitors whose lay clients have bottomless pockets – but very few private clients will proceed to instruct a barrister whose best estimate of costs is an uncertain number of hours at a high hourly rate. Pragmatically you need to recognise that most people want to know the extent of their financial liability at the outset.

Bear in mind the need to clear funds. It may be that your chambers would benefit from installing a credit card machine: bank transfers and cheques take some time to administer and clear, and it is unnecessary administration to have to chase clerks or the finance team for progress. When time is of the essence, because the client wants to know whether to initiate proceedings within a deadline, the absence of cleared funds can be a recipe for unnecessary stress.

If the client pays you in cash, do remember the money laundering regulations: it is better to pay the whole lot into your bank than to use it as a petty cash facility in your top drawer in chambers.

Do bear in mind the need (or at least, desirability) to recover payment for every aspect of a case. You may well draft paperwork by way of grounds of appeal or for judicial review, and expect to have seen the back of the matter; but you may find yourself facing a number of queries down the line as correspondence comes from the court, often of a nature that you have hitherto been shielded from by professional clients who instruct you. And think about unexpected adjournments, because of the behaviour, reasonable or not, of the other side, or due to the court having overstuffed its lists – you may expect a refresher fee every time you attend court, but does the client expect this? What would you say if your private dentist proposed a second full charge simply because their assistant went sick on the day of your planned root canal operation?

23rd October 2015

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