Clients who believe they have been overcharged by no-win-no-fee solicitors are not allowed access to all of their former solicitors’ files, judges have ruled.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) allows solicitors who act for clients under conditional fee arrangements to deduct up to 25% of the client’s damages for their costs.
Some law firms are specialising in helping people demand refunds where they believe costs were deducted unfairly. In two recent cases however, the courts have refused to order solicitors to hand over parts of their former clients’ files which would help their new lawyers to decide whether there were grounds to challenge the costs bills.
The documents requested were those which are generally regarded as being the property of the solicitor such as attendance notes, timesheets, diary notes and funding documents.
Master Jennifer James, who heard one of the cases, said the courts were seeing an increasing number of former clients challenging historic bills. She said that she was concerned the “floodgates would be opened” leading to an increase in litigation if she allowed files which belonged to solicitors to be disclosed.
The Law Society has published a practice note ‘Who owns the file’ to help solicitors identify to which documents clients are entitled.
“Solicitors who help clients win compensation on a no-win-no-fee basis need to make sure that they are very clear in explaining their fees and costs,” said James Burgoyne, Director – Claims & Technical, Brunel Professions. “Even though the courts have refused to let former clients have access to the entirety of their files, there is an increasing trend of challenging historic costs. The best defence will be to have laid out all the costs clearly and transparently to their clients at the outset.”
Reports on the cases, Green, Mughal, Mughal and Edwards v SGI Legal LLP and Hanley v JC & A have published by DAC Beachcroft, Litigation Futures, Law Society Gazette and the Association of costs lawyers.
Brunel Professions is a leading provider of PII insurance broking to the legal profession. To find out more call Jonathan Filer on +44 (0)117 325 0752.