Disputing Legal Costs and Points of Dispute
Solicitor Client and Inter-Partes Disputes
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The main method which can be used in disputing legal costs or Solicitors fees is by detailed assessment.
In a Solicitor Client dispute, there are various approaches that can be adopted before lodging for assessment, and it is worth discussing your matter with a costs expert to advise on the best approach. Below are a list of methods which can be used if you have received a Bill of Costs/invoice which you do not agree with.
Solicitor Client Dispute: Disputing Legal Costs Directly With the Solicitors Firm
While it may seem unappealing to complain directly to the firm which you have the dispute with, there will be some benefits in complaining directly to the firm of Solicitors. Some of the advantages will include a quick settlement and avoiding costly legal proceedings.
Under the Solicitors Code of Conduct, Solicitors are required to inform you of how a complaint can be made and to whom it is to be made. Solicitors are also required to deal with the complaint fairly. On receipt of any invoice/Bill, strict timescales apply and we would recommend you seek a resolution to a complaint within one-month, otherwise you should look to lodge detailed assessment proceedings.
Solicitor Client Dispute: Disputing Legal Costs through the Legal Ombudsman
This process is free of charge, and you do not have to have legal representation to make a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman. The Legal Ombudsman can act as an impartial party in dealing with the complaint. However, a requirement to complain to the Legal Ombudsman is that you have made a complaint to the Solicitors directly first and that no favourable outcome has been received.
Solicitor Client Dispute: Disputing Legal Costs through Detailed Assessment Proceedings
If you believe that a Solicitors’ bill is excessive you can apply to the Senior Courts Costs Office for detailed assessment of the fees charged under the Solicitors Act 1974 section 70.
There are however, time limits to consider when applying for detailed assessment. Those time limits run from the date of the bill sent to you by the Solicitor. The general rule is that if you apply to the Court within one month of the bill being delivered, you are automatically entitled to a detailed assessment. Any application after the first month will be at the Court’s discretion, and there will be a requirement to prove special circumstances of the case to qualify for detailed assessment.
To make an application to the Court, you will need to complete a Part 8 Claim Form and pay a Court fee.
The Court will provide a Court Order giving directions for the Solicitor to provide a detailed bill, and for parties to exchange submissions on the same, before listing the matter for a detailed assessment hearing. At the hearing, the Solicitor’s Bill of Costs will be assessed by the Court, and a Costs Order will be made. If you agree with the level of costs allowed, you can then pay the costs and conclude the dispute. However, to continue disputing legal costs, you will be required to lodge an appeal. In order to be successful on assessment, the Solicitor’s Bill would need to be reduced by atleast 20%, otherwise you will be responsible for the additional costs incurred in the Solicitor having prepared a detailed bill, and their costs of the assessment process. Always seek the help of a Costs Draftsman if you are seeking to formally challenge Solicitor’s fees in the Court.
Inter-Partes and Solicitor Client Dispute: Points of Dispute (Precedent G)
Within detailed assessment proceedings, the main method of disputing legal costs is through Points of Dispute, also known as a Precedent G. The paying party will have 21 days from service of the Bill of Costs to make written contentions to the costs claimed. Within, the Points of Dispute, the specific legal contentions often made are in relation to the validity of the retainer, applicable hourly rates, proportionality, and item by item disputes as to the costs claimed within the Bill. The Points of Dispute are legal arguments which can be supported with common law. Failure to serve Points can have a catastrophic consequence, such as the granting of a Default Costs Certificate (inter partes), or preventing the paying party from being heard further on assessment (Solicitor Client). On receipt of the same, the receiving party has then a further 21 days to make formal Replies to the contentions made. Both parties’ arguments will then be considered when the Court assesses the costs to be awarded.
How Can ARC Costs Help?
If you are intending on contesting legal costs, it is always worth speaking to a specialist Costs Draftsman, or Costs Lawyer, to ensure you are taking the correct approach. At ARC Costs, all our initial legal advice is free of charge. Our specialist costs team hold extensive experience in disputing and negotiating legal costs, preparing Points of Dispute and providing representation at Detailed Assessment. If you would like to discuss your query further, please contact us on 01204 397302, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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