Ivanishvili -v- Signature Litigation LLP (2023)
This case concerns the legitimacy of interim statute bills and potential difficulties in rendering the same. In the substantive action, the Claimant issued proceedings seeking Judgement that 79 invoices (totalling £12,781,354.66) rendered by his previous Solicitors over a period of more than six years, were not statute bills and should therefore be subject to a Solicitor/Client Detailed Assessment.
It was the Claimant’s position that his retainer with the Defendant firm incorporated a Discounted Conditional Fee Agreement and therefore, the invoices produced only represented a portion of the potential fees that would become due to the firm for the work undertaken. Furthermore, the retainer indicated that a final bill would be rendered upon conclusion of the claim. Therefore, the invoices produced could never be considered as final statute invoices.
The Defendant submitted that the invoices rendered were complete and final bills. It was their submission that only the last bill, dated October 2022, could be open to assessment, but otherwise they had all been paid and therefore the Claimant had no right to challenge them.
Cost Master Leonard did not give a concluded view on whether it was possible to render an interim statute invoice under the terms of a CFA. Rather, he found it ambiguous as to whether the retainer allowed for statute interim bills at all. In this case, he found that none of the invoices could be considered as statutory bills ‘because any such agreement would have been inconsistent with the terms of the retainer under which they were rendered and paid’.
Furthermore, under the retainer the parties had entered into, Master Leonard confirmed “the invoices could be finalised, only when either the firm delivered a bill for any additional fees due (ie success fee), or, the firm accepted that nothing more was due and finalised its billing on that basis. The default position for a contract between a solicitor and the client who retains that solicitor is that it is an “entire contract”.
Therefore, the Solicitor is only entitled to render a statutory bill at the end of the retainer, the completion of a transaction or the conclusion of litigation. As these invoices had been produced throughout the lifetime of the litigation as opposed to the conclusion, Master Leonard allowed the Solicitor/Client Detailed Assessment.
Whilst of course, cash flow for any firm is paramount, this case highlights the importance of truly understanding the pre-existing funding arrangement in place, before attempting to render final statute invoices.
Helen Appleby is an Associate in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors.
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