Case Study : Challenge Solicitors Bill of Costs

ARC Costs were recently instructed by a Litigant in Person to assist in the challenge of a Solicitor’s Bill of Costs, following receipt of a statute bill when the Claimant had allegedly breached a Conditional Fee Agreement.

 

Why Would a Client Challenge a Solicitors Bill?

Many clients who receive a legal bill for their Solicitor’s fees are usually that the charges raised are in line with the agreement they entered into.  However, some may believe that they have been overcharged, or that they should not have been charged in the first place (for instance for charges arising from a Conditional Fee Agreement, when the case failed). In these situations, the client may feel the need to instruct a Law Costs Draftsman or Costs Lawyer to assist them in challenging the Solicitors Bill under the Solicitors Act 1974. To challenge a Solicitor’s bill, the usual process involves applying to the Court and requesting an assessment of the bill within a month of receiving a statute bill. The application should be sent to the Senior Courts Costs Office which is akin to the High Court and specialises in dealing with legal costs Court cases.

Facts of this Case: The client provided initial instructions to a firm of Solicitors to initiate a claim on his behalf, and allegedly entered into a Conditional Fee Agreement. The client decided that they did not wish to continue with the claim and therefore provided no further instructions.  The claim did not proceed any further; however, years later, the client received a statute bill (akin to an invoice) from the Solicitors for work purportedly done on the file.

The Claimant had refused to pay the statute bill, and the Solicitor Claimant subsequently lodged a Claim Form at Court for an Order for assessment of their costs (via the Part 8 procedure) and was ordered to serve a formal Bill of Costs on the Defendant client.

 

Value of the Solicitor’s Bill: The Solicitor Claimant’s Bill amounted to more than £5,000, although the Defendant client stated that they had only received three letters in total from the firm of Solicitors.

 

How Did ARC Costs Assist?

Following receipt of a formal Bill of Costs (this sets out a breakdown of the work claimed in the original statute bill) from the Solicitor Claimant, the Defendant client contacted us for some initial legal advice on how to challenge Solicitor’s bills. At this point, the Defendant decided to instruct ARC Costs and we prepared Points of Dispute contesting the validity of the costs claim. 

On consideration of the case, we noted that the Conditional Fee Agreement retainer purportedly entered into was likely due to be invalid, due to the client having a poor grasp of written English.  It was therefore unlikely that they fully understood the contract they had entered into, and on highlighting this to the Claimant Solicitor, they agreed to discontinue proceedings, and to pay the Defendant’s costs for our representation.

 

I Have Received a Solicitor’s Bill of Costs, can ARC Costs Assist?

If you have received a statute bill (invoice) or formal Bill of Costs from a Solicitor which you believe may be unfair, we may be able to help you to challenge Solicitors bill under the Solicitor’s Act 1974. Most items on the bill of costs can be challenged such as the solicitors charge for hourly rates, or disbursements however, any assessment will be on an indemnity basis which weights any element of doubt in favour of the Solicitor. We will attempt to negotiate the Bill with the Solicitors before proceeding to a detailed assessment hearing.

There are some time limits for applying for detailed assessment, and if the Bill is over a year old, the Court will only assess the bill in special circumstances. Therefore, it is important that you instruct a Costs Draftsman or Costs Lawyer to review your bill soon after it has been received, and ensure you do not pay the fees if you consider the same to be unreasonable.  If a statue bill has been paid, the time limit to contest the same without special circumstances is one month.

A Solicitor client can also raise a complaint via the formal complaints process all Solicitor firms are required to have in place and as set out in any fee agreement, and alternatively via the Legal Ombudsman.

If you require our assistance, we can be contacted via email at info@arccosts.co.uk, or by telephone on 01204 397302. For more information on legal costs, please find out more about our speciality areas of expertise and our services on our legal costs page.

 

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