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What does 'no-win, no-fee' mean?

Under a no-win, no-fee agreement, your solicitor will take on your case on the understanding that if you lose your case, they will not get paid. But it is important to remember that there is more to the costs of a legal case than your solicitor's fees. And if you lose your case, you may still have to pay:

  • your opponent's legal costs; and
  • your and your opponent's 'disbursements' (other expenses or charges, such as fees for expert witnesses if they are needed).

However, you can -and you should -buy insurance to cover these payments in case you lose. Your solicitor will try to arrange this for you at the start of the case. They will tell you if they cannot find an insurer willing to cover you and what this means for you.

If you win your case, you must pay your solicitor's fees as well as your disbursements. But you should be able to get these costs (or most of them) paid by your opponent.

Your solicitor may also charge a 'success fee'. This is meant to compensate the solicitor for the risk of not being paid (if you lose). It may also cover the delay in getting paid (the time between starting work on your case and receiving a fee if you win).

The amount of the success fee depends on your type of case, and your chances of winning. For example:

  • in most types of road-traffic cases that don't involve large sums of money and are resolved without a trial, the maximum success fee is 12.5 per cent of the solicitor's normal fee;
  • in cases made by employees against employers, and for personal injury claims that involve a disease (for example, an asbestos-related ilness), there are fixed success fees.

In most cases, if there is a trial, the success fee will usually be twice the solicitor's normal fee.

If you win, the court will usually order your opponents to pay most (or sometimes all) of your solicitor's fees and disbursements (including the insurance premium) but you will have to spend up to 25% of your damages awarded on the success fee which covers risk rather than delay, as long as the court thinks these costs are reasonable. 

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