Success Fees and ATE Premiums post-LASPO – HH Law v Herbert Law Limited – Court of Appeal decision

The case of HH Law Limited v Herbert [2019] EWCA Civ 527

Background

This is a matter that was subject to a further appeal following the original appeal heard in March 2018. My colleague, Andrew McAulay, has prepared a useful summary of the outcome of that appeal and the background to the dispute which I will not repeat here.

Costs proceedings

In the subsequent appeal, HH Law (HH) sought to appeal two main areas; the reduction in the success fee, and the finding that the ATE Premium was a disbursement.

The Success Fee

The first ground of appeal put forward by HH was that, in a solicitor/client assessment, costs would be considered reasonably incurred and reasonable in amount if there had been express or implied approval by the client (CPR 46.9(3)). HH were able to successfully show that the documents provided to the client provided a ‘clear and comprehensive account of her exposure to the success fee and HH’s fees generally’.

However, it was under CPR 46.9(4) whereby the Court held that a success fee of 100% on the circumstances was unusual in both nature and amount. The Court of Appeal stated that the approach to calculating a success fee was to base it upon the solicitor’s perception of litigation risk at the time the agreement was made.

HH contended, within a witness statement, that it was a fundamental part of their business model to set the success fee on all cases at 100% irrespective of the litigation risk, and that such a business model was prevalent across the industry following the changes introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing, and Punishment of Offenders Act 2013 (LASPO). The Court of Appeal dismissed this approach and stated that there had been insufficient information provided to the client to ensure that informed consent was achieved in respect of the basis of setting the success fee at 100% for all cases irrespective of risk. The success fee was, therefore, held at 15%.

Comment: This may be considered an alarming result in the grand scheme of things and could lead to an increase in solicitor/client challenges to the level of success fee deducted from damages.

However, there is a simple solution to these challenges. The judgment firmly establishes that success fees should be calculated based upon the litigation risk at the date the agreement was entered. It is therefore essential to carry out a risk assessment when entering into the CFA.

The ATE Premium

HH had incurred the costs of the ATE premium and deducted it directly from the firm’s client account. Ms Herbert had contended that the premium was a disbursement and, therefore, could be challenged under a solicitor/client assessment. The Court carefully considered the definitions of what a solicitors’ disbursement was

‘a disbursement qualifies as a solicitors’ disbursement if either (1) it is a payment which the solicitor is, as such, obliged to make whether or not put in funds by the client, such as court fees, counsel’s fees, and witnesses’ expenses, or (2) there is a custom of the profession that the particular disbursement is properly treated as included in the bill as a solicitors’ disbursement’.

The Court came to the conclusion that an ATE premium did not fall within either definition, and that HH had been acting as an agent of the client when paying the ATE premium.

Comment: It was noted that the consequence of this finding would significantly reduce a client’s ability to challenge the amount of ATE premiums in future, and obiter, it was suggested that steps could be taken to bring ATE premiums within the definition of disbursements in future.

We still have places available at our next Costs and Litigation Funding Masterclass on 16 May 2019. https://lnkd.in/d33uy9e

This blog was prepared by Kris Kilsby who is an Associate Costs Lawyer at Clarion and part of the Costs Litigation Funding Team.  Kris can be contacted at kris.kilsby@clarionsolicitors.com or on 0113 227 3628.

 

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