Contract for Costs
The contract for costs between a solicitor and their client is usually referred to as the retainer or client care agreement. It defines what the solicitor has agreed to do and what the client has agreed to pay for this.
A valid contract normally requires consideration from both sides along with offer and acceptance. Both offer and acceptance can either be in writing or verbal. Normally a solicitor will put the contract in writing so that everyone knows where they stand. If they do not and there is later a dispute over what the terms were the Court will normally find for the client, but this is not guaranteed.
The retainer is normally the entire contract with the client. This means that the solicitor will only be entitled to be paid in accordance with the contract and will only be obliged to provide the services set out in the contract. If you run a case and obtain a costs Order against the other side their liability is to indemnify the costs due under the contract and cannot exceed this amount (known as the "indemnity" principle)
There are certain requirements set down by the Law Society that must be complied with in a client care agreement. The most important are setting out the qualifications of the person who will have conduct of the file, the hourly rate that will apply, an estimate of the likely overall cost and details of how you raise a complaint.
Solicitors firms will often do everything they can to avoid explaining the qualifications of the "lawyer" conducting the file. This is a reflection of the fact that work is usually "dumbed down" to the lowest qualified (or unqualified) person who can do it. It is a fundamental term of the retainer that you are represented by a solicitor unless you are told otherwise. To get round this solicitors firms give various vague descriptions of the person conducting the file.
If the retainer does not call the person dealing with the file a solicitor, a barrister or a Fellow of the Institute of Legal executives then the person is not qualified. The most common misleading descriptions we come across are Litigation Executive and Litigation Manager. Both mean the person has no professional legal qualifications other than in the "University of Life".
The client has an absolute entitlement to choose any solicitor they like, although the solicitor does not have to agree to act. Thereafter, the client also has an absolute entitlement to change solicitors at any time. Conversely, should the solicitor wish to stop acting for the client they can only do so for "good reason" as defined in the contract. If a solicitor wrongfully terminates the contract they will not be entitled to be paid and may also find they are sued for breach of contract and/or negligence.
The role of a solicitor is to advise the client, so that the client can give informed instructions, and to act on those instructions as long as they are both legal and within the rules of professional conduct. The retainer will comprise of express terms (those that are stated) and implied terms (those that are inferred by law or custom) which affect that duty.
The legal charges that a client is liable to pay are supposed to be calculated based upon the retainer. They should bear some resemblance to the estimate the client is given or there should be a good reason why this is not the case. This does not prevent your lawyer from raising a bill for whatever they like and relying upon you to raise any challenges.
If you think you have been misled about who would be conducting your case and should not be paying as a result then please e-mail us to discuss how we can help.
If you need our help, either e-mail us anytime, or call 01404 861868.