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Instructing a law firm for the first time - what to expect

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Legal issues can be complicated, daunting isolating and overwhelming, that is why you instruct a legal advisor to help you with whatever issue you may be facing, from conveyancing or wills through to employment disputes and litigation. Chattertons are a full service law firm and can provide you or your business with legal assistance and comprehensive wealth management solutions.

Instructing a law firm can be daunting, especially if you have not had to do so before. We at Chattertons want to make you feel comfortable with us and what you can expect when you first instruct us.

So here are some of the things you can expect at the first meeting with your legal advisor:

First Initial Contact

During your initial contact it is important you give as much detail about your matter as possible, this will enable us to put you through to the right department first time. During this call or during your initial call with a legal advisor you will be asked a series of questions including the other side’s details and a summary of the matter. It is important that you are able to provide full details of the person on the other side whether for a business transaction, house sale or dispute. This information will confirm we can act for you and will enable us to progress your matter swiftly. 

Meeting your legal advisor

You will usually be asked to attend a meeting with your legal advisor for us to formally identify you and take instructions. Before that meeting, preparation is essential. You must bring along:-

  • A photo ID (driving license or passport)
  • Proof of address (i.e. a financial statement or utility bill but not mobile phone bill)
  • All documents relating to the matter (even if they seem irrelevant!)
  • Money on account for professional fees

Following your meeting you will also be electronically verified for money laundering purposes.

It is also useful, especially in contentious matters to prepare a chronology in advance of the initial meeting, it provides a useful reference to your legal advisor and enables a better understanding of what has happened.


You will be sent a retainer letter which will detail what it is you have asked us to do, the terms upon which we will act for you and details of any fees. It is important you sign a copy of this letter and return it to us in the pre-paid envelope to confirm your instructions.

Professional Fees

Costs are often the biggest concern for clients when instructing a law firm. Legal advisors usually charge their time on a time spent basis, in units of 6 minutes. Some departments will offer a fixed fee for the work so other than VAT and disbursements, the agreed fee will not usually change. You must remember any quote for fees does not include disbursements or VAT and can be subject to change depending on the amount of time spent.

It is our policy to ask for a payment on account of costs, either for the whole amount (fixed fee) or for a specific sum, this is usually payable before any work takes place on your behalf. This money will remain in our client account until such time you are billed or funds are returned to you.

The best way to keep costs down and make the most out of your advisor is to be organised and prepared:-

  • Organise your documents beforehand, organising a file of documents on behalf of a client can take hours (sometimes days!) which would all be chargeable.
  • Being organised helps your legal advisor to have a clear idea of the key documents and facts of your case.  
  • Prepare for telephone calls– write a list of what it is you would like to speak about, or what has been said to you.
  • Plan your emails. Short emails are charged at one unit each and it is often easier and less time consuming for your legal adviser to consider and respond to one email than several.  
  • Plan your telephone calls and emails - keep them to a minimum by setting out all the relevant information or questions in one go.
  • Promptly complete anything your advisor suggests that you do. Reminders and chasing are all chargeable. Delays on your part could have serious consequences in the matter overall for example, a missed deadline.

Being organised and punctual will ensure you get the most out of your legal advisor as well as keeping costs down.

If you require any further advice or assistance, please contact us at your nearest office.