Do we have to pay our solicitor two sets of legal fees?

We have had to pull out of the purchase of a house and our solicitor is now proceeding with another property on our behalf. Do we have to pay him for the first lot of work he did?

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Question: We have been trying to buy a house that currently has a tenant in it. We were told the tenant would move out before we actually bought, but now he says he is staying put so we've had to pull out of the purchase. Our solicitor has done all the searches and the conveyancing work, though we did not sign a contract. He is now proceeding with another property on our behalf. We don't really want to pay two lots of legal fees — do we have to pay him for the first lot of work he did? 

Answer: It all depends on the agreement you had with your solicitor regarding his fees. If he did work and carried out searches without your instructions, then you may argue that he is not entitled to be paid.

A solicitor's fees should be transparent. At the outset your solicitor should have provided you with the best possible information regarding the likely cost.

He should have given you, in writing, an estimate of his costs and an indication of how many hours the transaction was likely to take. He should also have confirmed how you would be charged for any aborted work, and given you details of disbursements.

He may have agreed not to charge fees if the purchase did not proceed to completion, but disbursements such as search fees are likely to be payable in any event.

If there was no specific agreement regarding charging for aborted work, then your solicitor can charge on a quantum meruit basis — that is, he can charge you a reasonable amount for work he has done for you.

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If you have a question for Fiona McNulty, please email or write to Legal Solutions, Homes & Property, London Evening Standard, 2 Derry Street, W8 5EE. We regret that questions cannot be answered individually but we will try to feature them here. Fiona is legal director in the real estate group of Foot Anstey LLP in Exeter (
These answers can only be a very brief commentary on the issues raised and should not be relied on as legal advice. No liability is accepted for such reliance. If you have similar issues, you should obtain advice from a solicitor.

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