Legal fees and costs for civil cases

Explains what fees and costs mean in a civil case.
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If you are taking a civil case to court in Ireland, as soon as possible after you have given instructions to your solicitor, he/she must advise you in writing of the fees you would be charged for his/her services. If it is not possible to give you a definite sum, he/she must estimate a sum or at the very least describe the basis upon which charges or fees will be calculated. A solicitor must generally wait until you confirm that you accept the charges provided before providing legal services.

If it is proposed that a barrister be engaged, you must be provided with an estimate of his or her cost by the solicitor. If the barrister is then engaged, he or she must provide a similarly detailed estimate in writing of his/her charges to the solicitor, which is then passed to you.

When it becomes clear that the legal costs are likely to be significantly greater than those initially set out, an updated notice in writing must be provided to you. A lawyer must provide clarification in relation to any item included in any notice as soon as reasonably practicable after you have asked for it. Usually lawyers will wait until a case is concluded before requiring payment of their fees. However, sometimes fees will be requested in advance, especially in a case where you run a high risk of losing.


The fee can consist of the professional fee, miscellaneous charges (for example, phone calls) and charges from third parties, (for example, government agencies).

Lawyer’s charges are based on the following:

  • the complexity and novelty of the matter
  • the skill or specialised knowledge needed to deal with the matter
  • the time spent on the matter
  • the urgency of the matter and whether priority was given to the matter over other matters
  • circumstances in which the matter was dealt
  • the number, importance and complexity of the documents prepared or examined
  • the amount or value of any transaction involved
  • whether there is any limitation on a lawyer’s liability
  • the time reasonably spent researching the matter
  • the reasonable costs of any expert witnesses used

At the conclusion of the case, the solicitor and any barrister should give you a detailed statement of all the legal costs associated with your case (“Bill of Costs”). The Bill of Costs you receive, must contain certain things:

  • Summary of the legal services you were provided with
  • Details of all the charges that were incurred and the nature of these charges
  • The amount of VAT charged
  • Where costs are calculated based on time, the amount of time spent on a matter
  • The financial outcome of the case, i.e. any damages or other money recovered or payable to the client
  • Whether any costs have been paid or are payable by another party

The Bill of Costs must be accompanied by an explanation in writing of how any aspect of the Bill of Costs can be challenged by a client.

Lawyers are generally not allowed to charge you on the basis of a percentage of any award or settlement of your case.

If you are unhappy with your solicitor’s or barrister’s bill you have a number of options, see ‘Further Information’ below.

Usually if you win your case, most or all of your costs (including legal fees) will be paid for by the other party.

However, you may be obliged to pay all the costs and fees of your own legal team and that of the other party in the following situations:

  • if you lose your case
  • agree to accept an amount less than your full claim
  • a court fails to award you your costs or a proportion of them
  • the court awards costs against you

It is important to note that doesn’t award costs for or against either party.

Further information

A lawyer’s fee must not be excessive for the work done. If you think your lawyer’s bill is excessive you should contact your solicitor to seek clarification and try to come to an agreement.

You could also have your legal costs independently and impartially assessed by the Office of Legal Costs Adjudicators. This process is now known as the adjudication of costs. It was previously known as the taxation of costs and was carried out by Taxing Masters. The Courts Service has information on the process on its website.

If you are still not happy you can make a complaint about excessive costs to the Legal Services Regulatory Authority. The Legal Services Regulatory Authority is independent in the performance of its functions. Read more about making a complaint here.

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