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Legal expenses insurance problems

By Dean Sobers

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Legal expenses insurance problems

Legal expenses insurance offers a wide range of cover, but it's not without flaws. We reveal its key limitations and look at the alternatives.

In the past, legal expenses insurance was often badly sold. While its benefits were emphasised, details of limitations and exclusions were addressed only in the policy documentation – often not all that clearly. Insurers need to be clearer at explaining how their LEI policies work.

No guarantee legal insurance will cover your claim

Legal expenses insurance (LEI) doesn't operate in the same way as a dispute would if you instructed your own lawyer. Simply contacting your insurer won't guarantee you get a lawyer to pursue your case.

For a claim to be taken up, your insurer must be satisfied that you have a reasonable or better-than-average chance of winning your case at any time, not just when the claim is first raised. If new evidence comes to light, funding for your lawyer could be dropped.

Choice of legal representation

Even though insurers are allowed to appoint a lawyer from their own panel, you still have the right to select your own solicitor once legal proceedings have commenced.

However, some home insurers have clauses that limit the hourly rate they pay their panel solicitors (which is likely to be way below the industry’s agreed rate). Many independent legal firms won't be able to take on the work required at this rate. 

Peter Daley, an employment law solicitor at Bindmans LLP told us: 'Would-be claimants are therefore left with either paying for their own choice of representation, the opposite of the reason why they bought LEI in the first place, or being denied the right to choose their own legal representation altogether.'

A High Court judge ruled in October 2011 that rejecting a customer's decision to instruct their own lawyer on the basis of cost would not be allowed. This would seem to pave the way for a fairer approach to choosing your own lawyer in LEI claims.

Alternatives to legal expenses insurance

After the event insurance

More expensive than LEI, it's run by solicitors and covers a specific claim. It often operates on a conditional fee arrangement, typically no win, no fee.

Legal aid

This provides advice and legal representation for some civil cases. It doesn’t cover personal injury, and getting it will depend, in part, on your financial circumstances.


The cost of defending or pursuing a court claim can run into tens of thousands of pounds. If you have money put aside in a savings account for a rainy day, this could be an option. If you don't, but want to start saving, the Which? Money Compare tables let you search hundreds of savings accounts and cash Isa deals from providers large and small, so you can find a good home for your savings.

Trade unions

Members of a union may have access to legal assistance for all manner of claims, including employment issues and personal injury.

  • Last updated: August 2016
  • Updated by: Dean Sobers

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