“It is entirely routine for clients to seek Section 70 Detailed Assessment and for there to be a dispute between the parties as to whether the Bill in question is an interim statute, or interim non-statute, Bill. If the Solicitor prevails in arguing that it is an interim statute Bill and beyond the scope of Detailed Assessment, that is the end of it. However, if the client prevails in arguing that it is an interim non-statute Bill, the usual outcome is for an order that the Solicitor should render a final Bill for those costs, that will enable the same to be assessed as the client wishes.”
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 entitled them to invoice the client monthly, it did not expressly provide that such invoices would be final bills for the periods that they covered.
The Court of Appeal has upheld the decision of both Master Gordon-Saker (at first instance) and HHJ Klein (on appeal) which we reported last year that the former client’s Points of Dispute on a Solicitors Act assessment between himself and his former solicitors were insufficiently particularised as to afford the solicitors to know the case against them and meaningfully respond in advance of the assessment hearing.
The Law Society’s Model Form CFA contains a specific clause providing that “The parties acknowledge and agree that this agreement is not a Contentious Business Agreement within the terms of the Solicitors Act 1974.”. It was argued by the solicitors in this case that even absent this specific clause (as was the case here) any CFA which provides that no fees are recoverable in the event of failure, cannot be a Contentious Business Agreement within the meaning of s59 Solicitors Act 1974
Master Victoria McCloud (sitting as a Deputy Costs Judge in the SCCO) determined preliminary issues in the course of a detailed assessment proceeding under the Solicitors Act 1974, namely:
whether the entirety of the solicitors’ fees were incurred with the client’s consent in the sum claimed; or, alternatively
if not whether at least the level of success fee was incurred with consent.
This was an appeal from a decision of Master Gordon-Saker made in the course of detailed assessment proceedings brought under s70 Solicitors Act 1974. The Master had summarily dismissed the claimant’s points of dispute on work done on documents, on grounds that they did not further the overriding objective. Specifically, the points of dispute were not, “to the point”. They did not summarise all of the particular objections to the specific points which the claimant wished to advance at the hearing so that the court and the defendant knew or knew sufficiently the case the defendant had to meet.
Another important reminder of the importance of giving your client the best costs information possible throughout the life of your retainer. In this case the senior costs judge Master Gordon-Saker determined at first instance that notwithstanding the fact that the former client had not placed any reliance on any of the estimates provided to it by the solicitors, and acknowledging that unforeseen work had been undertaken, he was entitled to use the estimate as a yardstick in determining the reasonable costs payable as between solicitor and client. On appeal, Ms Clare Ambrose (Sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court) declined to interfere with this decision.
The Court of Appeal has upheld the decisions of District Judge Bellamy (first instance) and Soole J (on appeal) that a 100% success fee in a low value personal injury claim which was fixed without any reference to the actual risk involved amounted to a cost of “an unusual nature or amount” under CPR 46.9(3)(c).
Managing a client’s expectations in litigation can be difficult. Where there is no CFA, the client has the privilege of being able to ignore his/her solicitors’ advice, holding out for whatever result they desire, however unrealistic, or simply having their day in court. However, what can you do about a client who refuses to accept your advice about making a settlement offer when acting under a CFA?