The debate started by the recent cases brought by Leeds firm JG Solicitors trying to challenge deductions that personal injury solicitors made from clients’ damages has heated up, with the firm warning that it was not letting up its campaign.
The ACL was asked to comment on the issue by the Law Society Gazette, and said in a statement: “Master James (pictured) said recently that the SCCO was receiving ‘a large and increasing number’ of applications for former clients’ files.
“But those looking to challenge former solicitors’ charges have several hurdles to clear and the recent reported cases show that this is not easy. Detailed attacks on bills are reminiscent of last decade’s costs wars and ultimately emphasise the need for solicitors to ensure that their retainers are rock solid to start with.”
After two costs judges refused applications by former clients to obtain parts of firms’ files over which the solicitors have proprietary rights, last week the High Court ruled in the Mooney Everett case that it was only a solicitor who could determine “the content and terms” of their demand for payment, and not the client or the court. It ruled that a bill that was not sent to a client could not be treated as delivered after that firm handed over its file containing the bill to the client.
However, James Green, managing director of JG Solicitors, told the Gazette that the firm would “continue to fight” for clients who had been advised that their lawyers were entitled to take 25% of their damages.
It quoted Clerksroom barrister Robin Dunne, who was instructed by JG Solicitors in Mooney Everett, as saying the issue was “not going to go away”, with recent arguments over disclosure masking wider underlying issues.
He told the Gazette: “The fundamental problem is that some solicitors take the 25% maximum contribution as the sum that will be recovered in any case, whatever the work done. The reasons for this are commercially understandable and I have sympathy with firms trying to successfully run PI practices in the current climate. However, that does not justify overcharging – the 25% is a maximum cap, not a starting point or a figure that should be recovered on every case.”
Mr Dunne advised firms to provide clients with a full breakdown of their costs and deductions at the time the invoice was raised, giving clients the chance to bring up any concerns at the time rather than litigate later.
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