Where to start?
The first stage will typically be getting some initial advice from your lawyer about your case and your options. A lawyer will usually offer to have an initial phone call with you for free to discuss your case. To then get initial advice will typically cost around £1,000 to £5,000, although this cost varies depending on the lawyer and how complicated the issues are. After getting that initial advice you can then make the decision as to whether you want to go ahead with your case and how much it will cost you to proceed.
There may be many steps between getting the initial advice and heading to court, including writing to the other side and trying to settle your differences outside of court. However, if you do start the court process and you are unsuccessful, in some cases you may be liable to pay the other side’s legal fees. This is because in England and Wales there is a general rule (with some exceptions like with employment cases) that the loser of a court case pays the winner’s legal costs. This is referred to as “adverse costs risk” and is something your lawyer will likely advise you on as part of their initial advice.
One thing to note is that in many circumstances, there are strict time limits to starting legal proceedings, so it’s always a good idea to understand your legal options as soon as there has been a decision that affects you (or your community).
Paying for it yourself
You can pay for the legal costs of the case yourself. This can be an expensive option.
Lawyers may charge you based on an hourly rate or may agree to act on a fixed fee. In this scenario you agree to pay your lawyer regardless of the outcome of the case and so you may end up losing the case and having to pay your lawyer’s fees (and potentially the other side’s).
You can raise funds to help you pay for some or all of your lawyer’s fees, costs associated with your case (like court fees and expert reports), and to cover the risk of paying the other side’s legal costs if you lose. Individuals and organisations have used CrowdJustice, the crowdfunding platform specifically for legal work, to fund hundreds of cases of any size, from £300 to £300,000, including judicial reviews, environmental, planning, immigration, inquests, employment and criminal defence cases.
You can raise funds in different stages, from getting the initial advice from a lawyer all the way to getting your case to court – or any stage in between.
You can crowdfund to help supplement whatever you are able to pay privately, or you can crowdfund alongside a “conditional fee agreement” as described below.
Funds raised on CrowdJustice get transferred directly to your lawyer’s account on your behalf which means you don’t have to handle the administration of payments (or possible refunds to backers) or deal with the compliance that goes with legal cases and lawyers’ accounts and everyone donating to your case knows the funds are being used for the legal work.
“No win no fee” agreements
Your lawyer may offer to work with you under a “conditional fee agreement” (sometimes called a CFA or “no win no fee” agreement). This means that they agree not to charge you for their legal fees (or charge you discounted rates) unless you win the case. These agreements are relatively uncommon in judicial review proceedings given the unpredictability of their outcome.
Under this arrangement your lawyer takes the risk of not getting paid if you lose your case. In return for bearing that risk, your lawyer may also charge an additional “success fee” that means that if you win, they will charge an amount up to 100% of their basic legal fees. While in that scenario, the losing side must pay for your legal fees, they do not have to pay for the “success fee” so you would have to pay for that yourself at the end of the case. If you won damages (money) as part of the case, you might be able to pay the success fee out of the damages amount.
If you enter into a CFA with your lawyer, you may still be liable to pay the other side’s legal fees if you lose. It is usually possible to crowdfund to protect yourself against this risk. You may also still have to pay your lawyer’s “out of pocket expenses” like court fees, travel costs and expert reports, again all costs which can be crowdfunded.
Conditional fee agreements are complicated and before entering into one your lawyer must advise you carefully on their terms and exactly what you may have to pay whether you win or lose your case.
Legal aid, or public funds to help with your legal costs, has been significantly restricted under recent changes to the law. It is now only available for limited categories of law and where your financial means are low enough and where the chances of you winning your case are strong enough. The Government has this tool to help you work out whether you may be eligible for legal aid. If you think you’re eligible you should ask your lawyer whether they can accept legal aid work (not all lawyers can) and for them to explain the rules as they apply differently depending on the area of the law.
If you qualify for legal aid it acts as a type of insurance meaning you won’t have to pay the other side’s legal fees if you lose.
Other ways to fund your case
Trade union funding: If you are a member of a trade union you should ask whether they have any schemes to provide legal assistance. Your union may be able to pay for your legal fees and sometimes may be able to act as insurance if you lose your case and have to pay the other side’s legal fees.
Legal expenses insurance: Some household, mortgage, travel and motor insurance policies include cover for legal costs and it may be worthwhile checking your policies before speaking with your lawyer to find out if this is a possibility, however most policies expressly exclude judicial review.
After-the-event insurance: there is some “after-the-event” legal expenses insurance available which will cover the adverse costs risk and sometimes lawyers’ out of pocket expenses. However this insurance is very difficult to obtain, especially for judicial reviews, and is very expensive with the premium being as much as 50% of the amount insured.