Interim Statute Bills And Special Circumstances Under s70(3) Solicitors Act 1974


Master Gordon-Saker determined in this case that the solicitors’ retainer letter did not entitle them to render interim statute bills to their client as, whilst it permitted them to invoice the client monthly, it did not expressly provide that such invoices would be final bills for the periods that they covered.

“It seems to me, following Vlamaki v Sookias & Sookias, that if a solicitor wishes to reserve a right to deliver interim statute bills which are intended to be final for the periods that they cover, as opposed to requests for payment on account, that right must be spelled out clearly in the contract with the client. In this case it was not.”

He found instead that the situation was more akin to that in Chamberlain v Boodle & King [1982] 1 WLR 1443 in which it was held that the bills should be regarded as one bill in respect of one complete piece of work, although divided into parts.

“A client receiving monthly invoices may well have no idea whether she will wish to challenge them until either she has received sufficient to be caused concern or has reached the end of the matter and can consider the total, perhaps against any estimate that may have been given. In most cases it will be unrealistic to expect a client to be able to challenge her own solicitors’ bills in the middle of matrimonial proceedings… Accordingly, in my judgment, the 14 bills … were part of a running account which should be regarded as one bill delivered on the date of the last, namely 18th October 2019 when the Defendants’ retainer was determined.”

Although academic in the circumstances, the master went on to hold that, in any event, special circumstances existed such as to permit the assessment of each of the subject bills given the costs incurred vs the estimate given.

“It seems to me that the Defendants’ bills call for an explanation. The divorce petition was not defended and effectively the bills appear to cover the work done up to the preparation of the Form E. The estimate given by the Defendants to the Claimant in their letter dated 18th October 2018 for “initial discussions with the other side, voluntary exchange of Form Es, analysis of Form Es, raising questions as to that document and negotiating a settlement” was £8,940. That included counsel’s fees of £900 which were not incurred and work done on and following exchange of the Form Es and settlement was not done. The total of the bills, just over £13,000 excluding value added tax, does therefore seem to require explanation.”

Furthermore, no information had been given with regards to the client’s right to assessment under the Solicitors Act 1974.

“A second potential special circumstance is that the bills, at least as presented in the hearing bundle, did not contain the usual information about the client’s right to seek an assessment by the court under the Solicitors Act. In my experience it is the invariable practice of solicitors still to provide that information. Yet here it was not apparently included on the bills nor was it mentioned in the client care letter.”