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Is There Really Such a Thing as No Win No Fee Solicitors?

The answer is yes.

Until just a few years ago solicitors were not allowed by the Law Society (the solicitors’ governing body) to accept instructions from any client on the basis that they would be paid only if their client was successful in their action, known as “No Win No Fee”.

Such "contingency fees" have long been the norm in the United States and elsewhere, but the Law Society was concerned that such an arrangement would prejudice solicitors as they would have a stake in their client's claim. 

However with the decreasing availability of Legal Aid and competition from non-solicitors charging on a success-only basis, contingency fees have now become legitimate, particularly in personal injury and employment law actions, although they are available in other civil actions.

If you are not eligible for Legal Aid then ask your solicitor if they are prepared to take your case on a "No Win No Fee" basis (what your solicitor will call a Conditional Fee arrangement). They do not have to accept it. Some solicitors do not accept any instructions under this type of payment scheme. Those that do will want to assess the likelihood of you winning your claim, as they are staking their time and their fees on you being successful. If they indicate that they are prepared to consider your case on a "No Win No Fee" basis they will usually arrange an initial meeting at which they will take all the details from you, so that they can assess your case. Only once they have made this assessment will they decide whether to offer you a Conditional Fee Agreement.

How much does it cost if a No Win No Fee claim is successful?

Under a Conditional Fee Agreement you will only pay your solicitor's fees if you win. These will be in two parts - the basic fee (what you would normally pay) and the success fee (an agreed percentage increase on the basic fee - the riskier your case the higher this percentage will be). All these details will be contained within a written Conditional Fee Agreement, which should be explained to you in full. It is up to you whether you want to accept your solicitor's proposals. 

However such an agreement does not usually mean that you will not have to pay anything. You will usually be asked to pay any expenses that incur as your case proceeds - such as court fees, medical report fees and police accident report fees (likely to be a few hundred pounds), and make a one-off insurance premium payment (can be as little as £100) to cover your opponent's costs and your own expenses if you lose.

If you sign the agreement and win your case you will receive agreed compensation from the other party and payment of your solicitor's basic fees and your expenses. From this you will have to pay your solicitor his basic fee, plus any unpaid expenses incurred on your behalf, AND the success fee agreed (check that you solicitor agrees to limit his success fee to no more than 25% of your compensation - so that you are assured of receiving at least 75% of any compensation paid). [Note that from 1 April your insurance premium and your solicitor's success fee will also be recoverable from the other party]

Should you lose you will not have to pay your solicitor anything, and your insurance will cover the other party's legal fees and the expenses you have paid in bringing your claim. 

Don't be afraid to ask your solicitor to take your case on on a "No Win No Fee" basis.