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Solicitors’ Liens: An Explainer

Solicitors’ Liens: An Explainer

Make sure to pay your solicitor, otherwise they may just keep your property. Find out how solicitors can do this with solicitors' liens.

14th October 2020
Reading Time: 3 minutes

What are solicitors’ liens?

Imagine that you worked many hours by offering your services, and at the end of the job you don’t get paid. This is an unfortunate reality for many service offerers and lawyers are no exception. All too often clients refuse to pay lawyers for their work. A lawyer by exercising a lien, allows them to keep possession of the property of the client. This extends until they are payed the whole amount. This gives lawyers an extra level of security to make sure that they are compensated for their services. It is important to understand about liens even if you are not a lawyer as it is to the clients detriment. It is good to read up on solicitors’ liens to better gauge the power that they have and how to make sure that your lawyer doesn’t exercise one on you.

What property can the solicitors hold?

The property that the lien extends to is quite broad. It includes all documents received by the lawyer whilst representing the client. This includes papers, deeds, passports, and various other documents. The lien can even be used to hold onto money that the client has entrusted the lawyer with. This could be in relation to a settlement from a court proceeding. The lawyer in these instances can only hold onto the amount of money needed to pay themselves for their services. They must return the remainder to the client.

An interesting fact about the lien is that it extends to other documents of the clients that are not a part of the case. For example, if the lawyer has represented the client on a previous matter and it is the current matter that has not been paid for, the lawyer can keep the documents of both matters. Even if the lawyer was payed for the first matter the lien can still be exercised as long as there is unpaid work.

There are some exceptions when it comes to the types of documents that the lien encompasses. The main two are title deeds of your property if it has passed to another holder, and wills.

Want some clarification on the different costs involved with legal proceedings? Click here.

What are the implications?

You may be thinking to yourself on what the practical effects of liens are. Let’s say you are a client who hasn’t paid your solicitor for their services at the current moment. You are unhappy with their work and wish to find another solicitor. If they choose to exercise their right to hold your property through the lien, this is going to be difficult for you to migrate lawyers. There are going to be documents needed in the hands of your new lawyer if you want the best outcome. In order to navigate this scenario there are guidelines in place to transfer the documents to the new lawyer. You will still end up having to provide security or paying the fees for the documents however, in some form.

If the documents are essential to a current proceeding, the old solicitor must give the documents to the new solicitor if one of two scenarios are satisfied. The scenarios are found in the lawyer conduct rules at reg 15.

  • If the new solicitor undertakes to hold the documents of the lien whilst also providing reasonable security to the old solicitor, or
  • the new solicitor pays the old, or sets up a contract with the client to pay the old solicitor.

Looking for a lawyer? Need help with lawyer migrating or an issue with liens? Feel free to reach out to our network of expert lawyers in the area.


Solicitors’ liens are extremely powerful and act as a security to make sure that solicitors get paid for their services. It is always best to pay for the cost of the solicitor as soon as possible. Although frustration can arise if you are unhappy with a solicitor’s work and are in the process of swapping solicitors, the power of the lien places a significant roadblock. If you are facing issues with a lien, or would like legal assistance with any other matter, feel free to reach out to our lawyers.

Berk Eker

Berk is a Legal Tech Intern at Lawpath, working as part of the Content Team. He is currently in his penultimate year of a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Science at the University of Wollongong. He is interested in the growing relationship between the advancements in technology with the legal world.