How to Challenge a Solicitor’s Bill
Applying for Assessment Under the Solicitors Act 1974
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Can I Challenge a Solicitor’s Bill?
Solicitor’s fees are a common cause of dispute between clients and their Solicitors. We are often approached by former clients of Solicitors asking for advice on how to challenge a solicitor’s bill following their receipt of a legal bill which they believe to be unfair. If you have received a statute bill (often referred to as an invoice), or a 3 Column Bill of Costs from your Solicitor which you believe to be unreasonable, or overstated, you may be able to challenge your Solicitor under the Solicitor’s Act 1974 by requesting a detailed assessment of your Bill.
Solicitors Act 1974
Under Part III of the Solicitors Act 1974, a client can challenge the fees listed within a statute bill served by a Solicitor, particularly in a non-contentious business agreement (this is common for Law Society type Conditional Fee Agreements). The Act applies to a large portion of practice areas, including conveyancing, business litigation, and all types of personal injury cases. Solicitor’s fees, such as hourly rates, and disbursements can be challenged under the Solicitors Act 1974.
Reasons for Challenging a Solicitor’s Bill under the Solicitors Act 1974
There are many reasons for a client wishing to challenge a final Bill from a Solicitor, including being overcharged, or being charged when they should not have been. Many clients dispute their Solicitor’s charges where they have received a Bill for charges arising from a Conditional Fee Agreement following an unsuccessful result in a case. Some have received Bills which include charges for disbursements which were incurred without prior permission, fees which were disproportionate of the outcome, charges for work which had not been undertaken, and unjustifiably high rates. Often, Solicitors seek their costs on an hourly rate basis when inter-partes, the retainer may have limited them to fixed costs only, which would prove a strong reason to challenge the statute bill served.
How to Challenge a Solicitor’s Bill
If you receive a statute bill from a solicitor which you do not agree with (such a document would typically detail the extent of work completed and provide you with your rights to contest the Bill), the first step you should take is to make a complaint to the firm. This step may save you costs and time if you receive a favourable outcome. If you are unsatisfied with the outcome following your complaint to the Solicitor, a complaint can be escalated to the Legal Ombudsman. It is free of charge to make a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman; however, if you have still not received a satisfactory outcome, you may wish to instruct a Costs Lawyer or a Costs Draftsman to challenge the Solicitor’s fees under the Solicitors Act. It is imperative that if you have paid the fees in the statute bill, that any request for assessment is lodged within one month of the date of the same. If you have not paid the bill, you generally have twelve months to have the bill assessed. Thereafter, assessment can only be ordered under special circumstances. It should be noted that prompt action should be taken for assessment as soon as possible, as the Solicitor may apply for a charging order if you continue to fail to pay.
Requesting an Assessment of Your Bill
If you instruct a Law Costs Draftsman or Costs Lawyer, they will usually attempt to negotiate the bill with the Solicitor before proceeding to a detailed assessment hearing.
If this fails, they will then apply to the Court to have the Bill assessed. Applications for assessment of a Solicitor’s Bill should always be in the High Court, and must be lodged at the Senior Courts Costs Office if no proceedings currently exist, for assessment by a specialist Costs Judge. If proceedings already exist, a CPR 23 application should be made to transfer the matter to the High Court and for assessment proceedings to be ordered.
At the detailed assessment hearing, the Judge will assess all costs stated on the bill, and they will consider whether the fees incurred by the solicitor were reasonable.
Important Factors to Consider
Time Limits – The application for assessment of the bill should be made to the Court within a month of receiving the statute bill if the same has been discharged, or within twelve months if the fees remain outstanding. Entitlement to a detailed assessment after these timeframes will be at the Court’s discretion on the Applicant proving special circumstances.
Risk of Incurring Additional Costs – In some instances, you may risk having to pay more fees than the Solicitor’s original charges. If the fees listed on the bill are not reduced by 20% or more, or if the Court does not reduce the fees to less than the amount which you initially offered to pay, it is likely that you will have to pay the Solicitor’s costs for detailed assessment, as well as your own costs. It is for this reason that we would always recommend that a costs professional is instructed to act on your behalf. Solicitor’s costs will be assessed on an indemnity basis, meaning any element of doubt will be decided in their favour.
How Can ARC Costs Assist?
ARC Costs are highly experienced in how to challenge a Solicitor’s Bill under the Solicitors Act 1974. If you require our assistance, or advice on how to challenge a solicitor’s bill, we can be contacted via email at email@example.com, 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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