SOLICITOR AND CLIENT COSTS: A PRACTICAL GUIDE – BOOK REVIEW: BUY IT AND READ IT: £30 WORTH SPENDING
Disputes about costs between lawyers and their (former) clients can be “challenging”. Indeed they can be vitriolic and expensive. The lawyer thinking “We’ve done the work” – the client thinking “how much” and “I got nothing out of it, why do I have to pay“. This is a good time to review the book by Robin Dunne “A Practical Guide to Solicitor and Own Client Costs” published earlier this month.
In October 2016 I reported on the prediction given at the Association of Cost Lawyers’ conference of the likelihood of a rise in the number of solicitor and own client disputes in relation to costs.
Clients are now paying part of their damages as costs;
As a result of costs budgeting and the principle of proportionality there will be discrepancies in the sums allowed on assessment and the sums billed to the clients.
The law and practice of “solicitor and own client costs” is not something that features greatly in the law school curriculum. The law is often misunderstood and misapplied.
We have seen cases where no less than five QCs were instructed to argue a single point on an interlocutory issue in relation to a solicitor and own-client assessment. In Dechert LLP -v- Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation Ltd  EWCA Civ 375 the Court of Appeal upheld a decision that an assessment of costs could be in private.”
“The issue is clearly of importance for both parties. On the hearing of this appeal, Dechert was represented by Mark Howard QC, Simon Browne QC leading Tony Singla, and ENRC was represented by Lord Pannick QC, leading Richard Lissack QC, Benjamin Williams QC and Tamara Oppenheimer.”
We are also seeing a large number of cases coming through where personal injury claimants are challenging the 25% deduction from their damages. This is clearly an issue that is going to run and run.
This book is, therefore, timely. More than that is useful , probably essential for most solicitors and anyone involved in costs. It provides the overview that litigators need in relation to their own client’s costs. Each chapter provides the precise amount of detail needed, with reference to the relevant cases and with the key legislation and rules included. Chapters include
- The retainer.
- Statute Bills.
- Interim Statute Bills
- Applying for an assessment.
- Alternatives to Assessments under the Act.
VALUE FOR MONEY
In addition to being a guide for most litigators (indeed most lawyers) in relation to their own costs the book provides guidance to those instructed to challenge the costs of former solicitors. Their are key time periods here that every litigator must be aware of. A solicitor must normally wait for one month before proceedings can be issued for recovery of fees. A client has an unfettered right, as the party chargeable with the bill, to have an assessment of costs. However the ability to have an assessment only lasts for 12 months after delivery of the bill. After that time the court cannot order an assessment. (The possibility of a non-statutory assessment in these circumstances is considered in chapter 7).
SHOULD I BUY IT?
If you are a practising solicitor I think you definitely should. At £29.99 it is a fraction of the hourly charging rate of most litigators. It will save hours of (probably irrecoverable) time and save hours of (definitely irrecoverable) sleep.
HAVING BOUGHT IT SHOULD I READ IT?
The law relating to solicitor’s retainers is often poorly understood. Chapter two gives invaluable guidance of “estimates” of costs and the way in which a solicitor can be held to such estimates. The section on “Budgets and Estimates” is particularly important. Robin highlights the importance of showing the client the budget and informing them when costs are likely to fall outside the budget.
“There is much to commend the practice of a costs lawyer preparing a solicitor and client budget (at the same time as the between the parties budget is approved) and serving this on the client. this will ensure that the client has a good idea of the overall cost to them and the likely amount that the opponent will pay if the claim is successful.”
I would advise most litigators to read it for “defensive” purposes. To have an understanding of the legislation, law and procedure governing solicitor and own client costs. It is certain that, at some stage, client is going to challenge your costs, or you will challenge costs on behalf of a client. This book should be the first place you look. The question is not “should I read it” but “am I comfortable not reading it”. The answer is you probably aren’t.
If anyone has any doubt that these are difficult and contentious areas of litigation, take a read of these posts.
- Billing your own client: Five important lessons from the High Court
- Overspending on your costs budget: better tell your client.
- Tales from costs law conference II: the rise of solicitor and own client costs disputes.
- Successful challenge to 100% success fee upheld on appeal: Solicitor and own client assessment of costs.
- 10 minutes is a long time in litigation: assessment of costs considers billing practices in detail.
- Estimates of costs and the final bill: Solicitor and own client costs: Client (partially) successful on appeal.
- Solicitor and own client assessments: proportionality considered.