Breaking the law, or indeed fighting for your rights within the justice system, is an expensive business. Whether it is you who has broken the law, or someone who has broken the law against you, dealing with the fallout can easily bankrupt even the wealthiest of people.
While you can purchase an additional insurance policy which covers you for legal costs – this is often an option when taking out car or home insurance – it is not obligatory and often is rejected in a bid to keep premiums down.
But outside of regular insurance, if you find yourself in a position where you have to go through a legal process either as a perpetrator or a victim, you need to consider how you are going to fund your costs.
Are you eligible for legal aid?
In the UK legal aid was introduced in 1949 for those with less means to have access to legal support. Over the decades, this support has been eroded, and in 2013 went through significant reform that severely restricted the eligibility criteria. Today only a small minority of people fulfil the parameters, and the majority have to seek out legal aid alternatives if they find themselves in a situation where they have to fund costs themselves.
No win no fee
No win no fee solicitors have grown exponentially since the Jackson Review in 2008, which was established on the basis that the costs of civil litigation were too high. This arrangement simply means that you will not be charged if your claim is not successful. There are no upfront payments, and if you do not win, then you pay nothing towards the work carried out by a solicitor.
Also known as a CFA Conditional Fee Agreement, you enter a contract with your solicitor who agrees to take on your case based on their assessment of its viability. Some legal firms will encourage you to take out a legal expenses insurance premium that is deducted from any compensation paid out in the event the case is won.
Mediation is increasingly popular as an alternative way of settling legal disputes, as it keeps the expensive court procedures out of the equation, saving possibly tens of thousands of pounds. Mediation requires that an impartial, neutral ‘no man’s land’ mediator facilitates communication between the two parties to help them reach mutually agreeable solutions.
Mediation has proved to be extremely successful, with 86 per cent of all cases being settled – and a high proportion settled on the same day (about 80 per cent).
Online legal services
The legal industry was probably one of the last to embrace online technology, but since covid, it has had to reassess the way in which it carries out its consultations and processes. This has meant that many of the more routine and simpler tasks have become systemized, with templates and Artificial Intelligence-driven tools taking out the time-consuming aspects of legal matters.
This has allowed many people greater access to the simpler aspects of the law, freeing up the resources of highly paid solicitors to deal with more complex cases that require deeper scrutiny and expertise.
Many different sectors of society, particularly if they are from the more marginalized communities, are represented by non-profit charities and organisations that often hold free clinics and resources to help people deal with common issues.
They may also have stand-alone grants and funds that are set aside specifically to help certain cases the meet specific criteria.
In an equitable world the justice system would present a level playing field for all. Unfortunately, money still plays a major role in making one side more level than the other. By having more alternatives to reaching mutually beneficial conclusions would contribute to a much fairer society overall.