“…the Defendants have already accepted for the purposes of these proceedings that the Claimant’s General Retainer invoices, whether individually or collectively, had the status of a statute bill or bills, and both parties are now in consequence bound by a judgment that can only have been given on that basis. It is, as Mr Slade has said, too late for them to pursue another case now.”
The Claimant solicitors acted for the Claimant in matrimonial proceedings between November 2013 and September 2018. Following a “long history of protracted, difficult litigation” including a divorce suit, ancillary relief and Family Law Act non-molestation and occupation order applications the Claimant faced total legal costs in the sum of £263,426.11.
In Belsner v Cam Legal Services Ltd, Mr Justice Lavender determined that a solicitor who wishes to rely on having been given informed consent for the purposes of CPR 46.9(2) must not only point to a written agreement which meets the requirements of the rule, but must also show that his client gave informed consent to that agreement insofar as it permitted payment to the solicitor of an amount of costs greater than that which the client could have recovered from another party to the proceedings.
Suing for unpaid fees? In this case The Hon. Mr Justice Butcher considered the rights of the client upon being sued for payment of unpaid fees to challenge the amount of those fees sought by way of non statutory assessment.
In this SCCO decision on a preliminary issue before the start of a Solicitors Act assessment Master Rowley found that whilst the interim statute bills rendered to the client by his solicitors throughout the life of the retainer were to all intents and purpose statute in form and content, the retainers (private and then CFA) did not allow them to be rendered.
A solicitor who wishes to rely on having been given informed consent for the purposes of CPR 46.9(2) must not only point to a written agreement which meets the requirements of the rule, but must also show that his client gave informed consent to that agreement insofar as it permitted payment to the solicitor of an amount of costs greater than that which the client could have recovered from another party to the proceedings. For this purpose, the solicitor must show that he made sufficient disclosure to the client.
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.
When does the six year limitation period begin to run for the purpose of recovering unpaid fees?
Applying principles established by the Court of Appeal in the nineteenth century case of Coburn v Colledge  1 QB 702 Master Leonard found that the contract of retainer between the solicitor and his client had ended in April 2013 when the solicitor’s partnership was converted to a limited company and he ceased to practice in his own name.
Consequently, it was determined that, despite the final bill not having been rendered until January 2014, any right to take legal action to recover payment for his legal services had been statute barred since the beginning of April 2019.
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