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Context: I am employed in the UK.

  1. Back in mid-July, I was prospecting for a lawyer to advise me on a new contract my employer wanted me to sign. One of the solicitors who replied to my email asked for a phone call to "discuss [my] quote and [their] advice".

  2. The solicitor informed me on the phone of his hourly rate, basic admin details, and then asked me more details about my situation. It's important to note I didn't sign anything or even explicitly verbally agreed to engage in a contract with him. All in all, the call roughly lasted 50min.

  3. Following the call, he sent me an email summarizing my situation with my employer. Although the email was somewhat lengthy, well organized, and a well understood roundup, it didn't include anything more than what I told him over the phone (no legal advice, or answers to my concerns).

  4. Another email followed up a couple of days later, offering me to sign an engagement letter with this lawyer's company, in order to "set out the basis upon which [they] will provide legal services to [me]". This letter contained the scope of the advice they would provide, the estimated work time required for the instruction, along with estimated fees. The terms of the service were generic and very vague. If it matters: The letter was wrongly titled "Your Employment Agreement with [some employer/company unrelated to me]".

  5. I replied informing him I would prefer to wait before engaging contractually with his company.

  6. He replied he would then send me an invoice for the "initial advice (1 hour)".

  7. I replied I hadn't realized I engaged in any contract with him by accepting his call. I also informed him about the mistake in the engagement letter.

  8. Now more than 2 months later (end of September), I just received his invoice, charging me for "Advising in relation to employment agreement with [the same employer/company unrelated to me]". Also, the bill is properly dated (Sept), but the service is dated end of August (date at which nothing happened).

In this context, a couple of questions come to mind:

  • What is the validity of such an invoice?
  • Is this legal and standard practice in the lawyering industry?
  • What can happen if I don't settle the invoice? Am I in my rights not to pay?
  • Do I even need to reply?

Many thanks for your response!

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  • This is primarily asking what the law requires or permits, it is not a request for specific legal advice ans should no be closed as such. Oct 2 at 21:23
  • What it actually asks is for legal advice, whether or not it also happens to ask for something else. If you want it kept open, remove the parts that require closure.
    – Nij
    Oct 3 at 0:19
  • 1
    If closed I will vote to reopen it. Oct 3 at 1:25
  • I'm also voting to reopen if necessary.
    – bdb484
    Oct 4 at 3:29
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This practice is probably not illegal, but I think it is at best ethically dubious.

The invoice specifies ""Advising in relation to employment agreement with X", but according to the question no advice about X was given or even asked for, and while advice about Y was discussed, no such advice was given. That suggests that the asker owes the solicitor nothing.

However the asker was informed of the hourly charge and then continued to discuss the issue. it could be argued that the constitutes an implicit contract to pay that rate for those discussions.

It seems that the asker never said "does that rate apply to this telephone call", nor did the solicitor say "that hourly clock starts now if you want to continue". This leaves the situation less clear than it could have been.

The second email, as described, seems to imply that the work of giving advice had not yet commenced, and thus no fee was due for services to date.

A person in this situation could reply with a letter (sent by email or postal mail or better both) saying that no advice was given, no useful service was performed, and there was no agreement to pay for any service, so no fee is due. If the solicitor takes this to a court case, the asker may well want to consider consulting a different legal professional.

This is a case where the exact facts may well matter, so no more precise answer can, I think, be given here.

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  • 1
    Yes. OP asked for a service, was told the price, and then accepted the service. You can't just eat a cookie with a price tag on it and then deny entering into a cookie contract.
    – bdb484
    Oct 4 at 3:34
  • A part of giving advice is listening to the question and making sure you understand the situation. It would be a strange billing system that didn’t count the minutes listening to the question because the “advice” hadn’t been yet emitted. Oct 5 at 10:08
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You didn't form a contract in the sense of a legal document stating your intentions and terms. Instead, you formed what the courts call an "implied in fact" contract, where your agreement to the terms is implied by your actions.

You may not have believed you were agreeing to pay for anything, but contract law generally ignores evidence about what you actually believed. It is of course impossible for the courts to know what you truly believed, so they ask instead what a reasonable person would think you believed, based on your actions.

Here are the actions the court is going to see:

  1. You asked for a service.
  2. The provider gave you a price for his service.
  3. The provider gave you the service.
  4. You accepted the service.

Objectively, that is an agreement to the stated price. If we replace "legal advice" with basically anything else (a new roof, medical care, accounting, marriage counseling, a hair cut), I doubt there would be any question as to whether you should be able to enjoy the benefit of the provider's service for free.

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