Fees payable for letters under advice and assistance

Factors we consider about when are fees payable for non-formal letters

While giving advice, especially following investigation or during negotiations, you may have to write your client in circumstances where more than minimal thought and legal expertise is required in the drafting.  Whilst, in principle, such a letter is an entirely reasonable charge, you should always set out the advice briefly, in plain English and focus it on the specific, material issues.  We do not consider it necessary, or reasonable, to send a client a lengthy letter repeating much of the advice given at a meeting, or during a telephone conversation, especially where the stated purpose of the letter has been that the client may not have readily understood the initial advice.

A number of issues arise in the assessment of charges for letters in the course of the giving of advice and an understanding of our position, as third party paying, may reduce continuations for further information or the abatement of your accounts in this area.

Definition and examples of formal letters and charges payable

A formal letter is a letter that requires little thought, legal expertise or specialised knowledge.  Although not an exhaustive list, examples of letters that we consider to be formal include:

  • an acknowledgement;
  • a reminder;
  • a letter with an enclosure; and
  • a letter of basic content.

These should be charged at the formal rate prescribed in the Table of Fees.

When may acknowledgment letters be chargeable?

An acknowledgement letter is not chargeable unless

it is crucial to the advice or

where ABWOR is available, needed to advance the proceedings or

in restricted circumstances, for example to acknowledge the receipt of

  • a cheque or payment;
  • a court/tribunal document or document of a formal or confidential nature; or
  • a specific document, which is essential in the particular circumstances of the case to avoid prejudice to the client.

Limited circumstances where reminder letters may be chargeable

A reminder letter, if nothing has occurred to advance the case since you last communicated with the client, is not a proper charge.

Subject to the following exceptions, you cannot charge for a letter to the client “to call” unless something has taken place that justifies a meeting or further advice.  We will not pay for a letter “chasing up” the client: it is for the client to keep in contact with the solicitor and this is not good use of public funds.

The exceptional circumstances are where

  • the letter “to call”, in the event, becomes the final letter;
  • where there is a prospect of recovery/preservation and you have lost contact with a client. It is reasonable to write to the client or their new solicitor to find out what has happened with the case in the context of a hardship application.

Letters sending enclosures or of ‘basic content’: distinguishing formal from non-formal for purposes of charging

A letter simply sending an enclosure is an obvious example.  However, we judge whether a letter is formal or not by the nature and content of the letter rather than its length.  It is not a charge for a “short letter”.  A letter requiring little drafting is allowable at the formal rate prescribed at paragraph 1B of the Table of Fees.

Otherwise a letter is chargeable at the higher rate prescribed at paragraph 1C.

Accounts and ‘lengthy’ letters: definition, information to provide us and factors in assessment

When making a claim for a lengthy letter – that is, in excess of three sheets – you should attach a copy of the letter to the account.  The letter should be concise and in plain English.  We will assess it on its content and not solely by its length.  The length of the letter is a relevant, but not determinate, factor in what we will pay you.

If you are referring to or quoting from legislation or rules (such as prison rules etc) you should attach the relevant parts of the legislation or rules to the letter, as an appendix or sheet apart.  You still draw the information to your client’s attention but in a way consistent with the standard of taxation.

We will assess each letter on its own particular circumstances.

Sending similar letters to multiple persons: differing levels of fees chargeable

Where letters similar in content are sent to several people we will allow the first letter at the higher rate and the remainder at the formal rate.

The use of pro-forma/template letters: charging for formal and non-formal elements

Pro-forma letters are letters used on a regular basis tailored to reflect a client’s circumstances.   To the extent that these letters can be seen to be of the same/similar content they will be chargeable at the formal rate, per page.  The higher rate per page will apply only to any individually composed element of the letter that reflects the client’s own particular circumstances outwith the standard content.

Pro-forma letters should be adopted where possible, especially where you are undertaking the same type of work for a large number of clients.  If you choose to write an individually composed letter to a client where this is not necessary and a pro-forma letter could be used – for example, to explain the law as it affects them or the application of a legal test that has to be satisfied – we may restrict the fee to a charge that we consider reasonable in the context of the advice.

Charging for a final letter: the 12-month time limit for account submission

You can charge for a letter informing the client that you are closing the file.  However, the 12 month limit for lodging an account runs from the last piece of what can properly be called advice or assistance, and not from the date of such a letter.  The whole account, including the letter, may not be chargeable if the 12 month limit has already expired.

You can charge for a letter “to call” if, in the event, it becomes the final letter (and is timeous) and you have told your client in that letter that you will be closing the file if there is no further contact.

Charges for letters on word count basis: assessing the relevance rather than length of information

The Table of Fees provides that a page shall consist of 125 words or numbers for letters other than a formal letter (for which there is a fixed charge).

Whilst the word-count is helpful, it does not determine the number of pages we will allow.  We will only allow the charge to the extent to which the information is relevant to the advice being given and is concisely stated in plain English.

Also we will not take into account the address, reference, greeting or valediction in assessing the number of chargeable pages.  These do not form part of the content of the letter.

For these reasons, we regularly reduce the sheetage even where the number of words or numbers exceeds 125, or a further block of 125, and abate accounts accordingly.

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