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Should I pay for legal advice?

There are various ways of getting legal advice and representation without having to pay for it: see generally ‘Getting advice. But lots of people won’t have access to any of these, and there’s a large gap between being on such a low income that you have a chance of free assistance from a legal charity, and being so well off that you can easily afford to pay for legal representation at an employment tribunal hearing and in the run-up to it.

How much it will cost you depends on a lot of different variables: how complicated your case is, how much work you are able to do yourself (and how well you can do it), who you instruct, and so on.

But it will cost a lot. Very broadly speaking, you can probably easily afford to pay for legal representation if you can easily afford to buy a brand new sports car; otherwise not. Or to put it another way: lots of legal expenses insurance policies limit cover to £50,000. For a reasonably straightforward case, you shouldn’t need more than that; but if your case is long and complicated, or goes through several appeals, it can easily get used up.

Unfortunately, the more complicated your case is, the greater your need of professional assistance in running it; but also, the more expensive that assistance is likely to be. The result is that if you are trying to bring a complex claim against an employer or former employer, and you don’t have any source of free legal advice, you face a thoroughly unattractive choice. Either you try to run the case yourself, which will be difficult, and intensely stressful. Or you spend a great deal of money on lawyers, for an uncertain outcome – and at a time when your finances are likely to be under strain anyway. Good lawyers will improve your chances of success, but you can never be certain of the outcome of a case however good your lawyers.

A related problem is that if your case is complicated, you won’t even be able to get advice from a lawyer on whether they think your case is worth a significant investment without paying quite a lot for that advice. That’s because it takes time to read the papers, do any necessary research and form a view. So you may spend several thousand pounds at an early stage, only to be advised to drop your case on the grounds that it will probably fail anyway.

There’s no way around this: you will have to make hard decisions. Legal services are expensive, and bad news costs as much as good. The main thing is to keep a clear-eyed view of what you are trying to achieve and why, and get as complete a picture as you can as early as you can on what your case is likely to cost you in total.

Above all, resist the gambling trap – that is, the tendency to feel that once you’ve spent a significant sum on your case, you are in too deep to cut your losses.


  1. AK

    Dear Ms. Cunningham,

    I have recently been advised by a CAB that financial position considerations of the claimant do not usually take effect in referrals to the FRU. Also, that discrimination cases are picked up rather quickly by volunteering lawyers. How true do you reckon these claims are?


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