Challenging Legal Fees – Solicitors Act 1974
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How to Challenge a Solicitor’s Bill?
Solicitors and clients can fall into a dispute over the Solicitor’s fees incurred for providing legal services and legal advice. Whether you have been served with an invoice containing your statutory rights (also known as a statute bill) or a detailed legal Bill of Costs which you think is unreasonable, you may be able to go about challenging legal fees charged under the Solicitor’s Act 1974, which would mean requesting a detailed assessment of the costs.
Solicitors Act 1974
This Act applies to numerous areas of law, including business litigation, personal injury cases, professional negligence and conveyancing. Part III of the Solicitors Act 1974 can be used to challenge the fees included within a statute bill. The Act can also be used to challenge the hourly rates used in the final Bills served by the Solicitor and also the disbursements incurred.
Reasons for Challenging a Bill Under the Solicitors Act 1974
There are numerous reasons why you may wish to challenge a Bill from a Solicitor. These reasons can be because you believe you have been overcharged, or that you have been charged when you should not have been. A common reason for being charged is when a case has been unsuccessful on the purported basis that the client has breached their Conditional Fee Agreement, for instance for failing to provide adequate instructions. Find out more on our case study here, in which we assisted a client defeat the claim for costs against them.
How to Challenge Legal Fees
The first thing you want to keep in mind is that it is essential to act promptly if you intend to dispute the legal fees which you have been served. The first step should be to complain to the firm itself. Any action to contest an invoice must be within one month of the date of the statute bill if the fees have already been paid (such as a deduction from damages), or twelve months if you have not yet paid the statute bill. If you are not satisfied with the outcome of the firm’s complaint, you can also escalate your complaint to the Legal Ombudsman, which is free (this is likely to take six months+ however, and you should ensure you lodge for detailed assessment proceedings as per the aforementioned timescales). To commence detailed assessment proceedings, get in touch with a specialist Costs Draftsman or Costs Lawyer for assistance.
How to Request an Assessment of the Bill of Costs
A costs expert will usually try to negotiate the costs with the Solicitor before they issue any proceedings for a detailed assessment.
If an agreement cannot be reached through negotiations, applying to the Court for detailed assessment will be the only option left. Applications should be made to the High Court and should be lodged at the Senior Courts Costs Office if there are no proceedings on the case already. A formal Bill of Costs will need to be drawn, upon which Points of Dispute and Points of Reply will be exchanged. The costs will then be assessed by a Costs Judge. However, if proceedings already exist on the case, a CPR 23 application is to be made to transfer the matter to the High Court first and then for assessment proceedings to be ordered.
At the hearing for detailed assessment, the judge will consider the Bill of Costs and assess if the costs claimed are reasonable.
Factors to Consider When Challenging Legal Fees
After the aforementioned time limits have passed to lodge for detailed assessment, you will require special circumstances to be granted a detailed assessment.
There may also be a risk of incurring further costs. A Solicitor’s Bill will be assessed on an indemnity basis (any element of doubt will be resolved in their favour), and if the court finds the costs to be reasonable and orders in favour of the Solicitor (a reduction of less than 20% on the Bill as drawn), you may be required to pay the legal costs for detailed assessment also, resulting in a higher amount being finally due.
To challenge a Solicitor’s Bill, you therefore need to have strong grounds to contest the same. Such grounds may be being overcharging on the agreed hourly rates for the Solicitor acting, significant overspending (20%+) of any costs estimate previously given, or extremely excessive times being claimed for work done.
How can ARC Costs Assist with Challenging Legal Fees?
At ARC Costs we are specialist Costs Draftsman and Costs Lawyers who can assist you in negotiating the Bill which you wish to contest, apply to the Court for detailed assessment and represent you at the hearing. Should you require any assistance in challenging legal fees, please contact us for an initial consultation on 01204 397302. We can also be contacted via live chat, below, and via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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