Getting paid properly – Costs Estimates

Costs Estimates

Why provide an estimate of costs to your client in respect to their legal claim?

It keeps your client informed and therefore there are no surprises, this in turn manages your client’s expectation. This helps to avoid any dispute regarding the level of fees.

However, there is also the techy but important part!

Failure to provide information about costs and funding options for litigation is a breach of the Solicitors Regulation Authority Code of Conduct 2011 (SRA Code 2011),  your obligations are to “clearly explain your fees and if and when they are likely to change”.

Consequently, keep your estimate up to date, monitor the estimate and advise the client if the estimate requires changing – prospective thinking is the key.

The estimate must be clear and concise, must be worded in a way that is appropriate for the client and must be given in writing and regularly updated. The client should be provided with a detailed estimate, not just a ball park figure.

A solicitor is required to undertake a cost benefit analysis. The Code’s requirement in Rule 2.03 (6) is that “a solicitor discusses with their client whether the likely outcome in a matter will justify the expense or risk involved, including, if relevant, the risk of having to bear an opponent’s costs”.

It is essential that the cost-benefit analysis must be kept under review throughout the matter and reviewed with the client at key stages.

What is the impact of not providing an estimate?

Your client may argue that they would have given different instructions/or not proceeded with the matter if they had known: how expensive the claim would be, the length of time it would take, the level of their legal costs that would be recoverable from the other side and also their liability for the other side’s costs.

What if the client asks you to undertake out of scope work?

Explain that the estimate does not cover the additional work and provide a further estimate of the additional work. Advise the client if there is any risk that this work may not be deemed recoverable from the other-side. Failure to do so may result in those additional costs being disallowed.

Is a solicitor bound by their estimate?

Sort of!

If the client requests an assessment of their costs in accordance with the Solicitors Act, the estimate may be used as a “yardstick to measure reasonableness”. Any estimates that have been exceeded because they are simply wrong will be taken into account, together with the circumstances surrounding it, i.e. the reliance the client placed on the estimate and costs reduced accordingly.

Always provide a realistic estimate

Keep your estimate realistic at the outset. Even regular updating might not subsequently save a bad original estimate. The court’s view is that the first estimate is a critical piece of information for a client’s decision whether or not to embark on the action.

The Code’s requirements are for “best” information to be provided about costs. Therefore providing low estimates are unlikely to comply with the SRA Code of Conduct.

IN SUMMARY

Always provide a detailed estimate of costs.

Prepare a realistic estimate of costs.

Monitor the estimate and revisit with client throughout – costs/benefit analysis.

Identify and advise regarding out of scope work.

Sue Fox is a Senior Associate and the Head of Costs Management in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact her at sue.fox@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3389, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.

 

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COSTS PAID BY A THIRD PARTY – BREACH OF THE INDEMNITY PRINCIPLE?

The case of HMRC -v- Gardiner and Others [2018] EWHC 1716 (QB) is a case concerning an alleged breach of the indemnity principle.

Background

The Respondents were amongst several tax payers challenging penalties imposed by HMRC for incorrect tax returns. EDF Tax Defence Ltd (“EDF”) were the tax advisors.

The Respondents were successful and HMRC were ordered to pay their costs.

Costs proceedings

EDF were at the forefront of the work carried out in the matter. Counsel was instructed to represent the Respondents and the fees were paid by EDF. HMRC therefore alleged a breach of the indemnity principle on the basis that the Respondents had not paid Counsel’s fees and that there was no direct retainer in place between the Respondents and Counsel.

The argument failed and the key points to note are as follows:

  1. There was never an agreement that the Respondent would not be liable for Counsel’s fees (see paragraph 30 of the Judgment – “The presumption that a client instructing a solicitor or representative to represent them will be liable for costs incurred for such representative may be rebutted by the paying party proving that there was a bargain between the client and the representative that under no circumstances was the client to be liable for costs”).
  2. Counsel represented the Respondents at the hearing, not EDF.
  3. The arrangement was no different to a trade union funding arrangement.
  4. The key for the indemnity principle is a liability to pay and not payment/discharge of the liability (see paragraph 30 of the Judgment – “It is liability to pay rather than who makes payment which is material”).

Had evidence been produced that the Respondents would never have been liable for Counsel’s fees, then the Court would have reached an alternative conclusion. This is therefore a useful case to rely on for parties seeking costs which have been met by a third party, but are facing indemnity principle challenges from a paying party.

This blog was prepared by Andrew McAulay who is a Partner at Clarion and the Head of the Costs Litigation Funding Team. Andrew can be contacted at andrew.mcaulay@clarionsolicitors.com
or on 0113 336 3334 or on 07764 501252.

Clarion Costs Legal Updates

We have incorporated a collection of our blogs into a Blog booklet. The blogs were current at the

date of publication, however these may have now been superseded. Please visit our blog

(https://clarionlegalcosts.com/) for continuous updates on all costs law.

• Page 1 – Introduction

• Page 2 – Good news for those that prepare an accurate costs budget by Sue Fox

• Page 4 – Fixed Costs – the effect of acceptance of a Part 36 offer by Matthew Rose

• Page 6 – Payment on Account or Final Invoices? – another solicitor/own client costs

battle… by Andrew McAulay

• Page 7 – The Disclosure Pilot Scheme – what roles do costs estimates and precedent H

costs budgets have? by Sue Fox

• Page 8 – Proportionality – a flurry of cases by Andrew McAulay

Joanne Chase

• Page 9 – Part 36 offers, the basis of assessment, and knowing your expert by

Joanne Chase

Please click here

For any assistance, please contact the Costs and Litigation Funding Team at Clarion Solicitors 0113 246 0622.

 

 

Proactive Costs Recovery – Thinking Ahead

The traditional approach to costs recovery has been to prepare a statement of costs for trial, perhaps convert it into a without prejudice schedule of costs for negotiation and, when all else fails, instruct your costs specialist to prepare a formal bill of costs and commence detailed assessment proceedings. Unsurprisingly, this whole process can take many months and, if the paying party are unwilling to make a payment on account of costs, it can cause difficulties with cash flow. This is particularly noticeable for firms with a large caseload.

The tide, however, has started to turn and we are receiving an increasing number of instructions to prepare a skeleton bill of costs in readiness for a JSM. This proactive approach means that your costs are summarised and presented to the opponent on an occasion where, hopefully, they have the appetite for negotiation and therefore there is a realistic chance that both damages and costs can be concluded in one go.

For matters subject to costs management, it is essential that the costs are presented in accordance with precedent H phases to enable the paying party insight into whether there has been any over spend in a particular phase. Costs that fall outside costs management should be isolated and thought should be given to good reasons for departure from the budget if there has been an overspend. This will equip you with the information required to try and persuade the opponent to reach an agreement on costs and avoid the costs associated with detailed assessment.

And, of course, if you are unable to settle your costs then the skeleton bill can be updated and converted into a formal bill of costs in readiness to commence detailed assessment proceedings.

Those clients who adopt a proactive approach to costs recovery are reducing the amount of time it takes to conclude costs negotiations and, ultimately, for the money to reach their bank account. They, wisely, think about the costs aspect of their case in tandem with their client’s claim and they reserve their Costs Lawyer well in advance of the JSM.

Joanne Chase is a Senior Associate Costs Lawyer in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact her at joanne.chase@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3327, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.

Fixed Costs – the effect of acceptance of a Part 36 offer

The case of Ansell & Evans -v- AT&T (GB) Holdings Ltd (County Court at Oxford 14/12/2017) was an appeal to the County Court in relation to the interpretation and effect of acceptance of a Part 36 offer made in a case to which fixed costs applies.

Further information can be found in Gordon Exall’s blog on this case here

Background

The Claimants had been injured in a car accident and the claim, due to its value, fell within the scope of the RTA protocol (‘the Protocol’). The claims were submitted to the Protocol and the Defendant admitted liability. Subsequently, the Defendant wrote to the Claimants stating that they were concerned that the accident was a low velocity impact and they therefore requested that they have access to the vehicle in order to arrange an inspection “in line with Kearsley -v- Klarfeld…” and that pending such investigations the Defendant “may wish to raise Casey -v- Cartwright”.

Shortly thereafter, the Claimants wrote to the Defendant stating that in light of this request, pursuant to paragraph 7.76 of the Protocol the claim was not suitable for and therefore would no longer continue under the Protocol.

Three months later, the Defendant wrote to the Claimants stating that “LVI is no longer an issue”.

No settlement having been reached, the Claimants issued proceedings under Part 7 and the Defendant thereafter made Part 36 offers, which the Claimant accepted within the relevant period.

The issue between the parties

Following settlement, the Defendant stated that it considered that the Claimants’ conduct in withdrawing the claim from the Portal had been unreasonable, and that the Claimant should be limited to pre-action fixed costs (CPR 45.29B Table 6C).

The Claimants’ position was that:-

  • Pursuant to CPR 36.20 there was no deemed order for costs (CPR 44.9 applies only to settlement under CPR 36.13);
  • CPR 36.20(2) provides that where a Part 36 offer is accepted within the relevant period the Claimant is entitled to fixed costs applicable at the date on which the notice of acceptance was served;
  • The court had no discretion to go behind the self-contained provisions of CPR 36 and make some other order as the court;
  • Even if the court did have such a discretion, the court should not do so because if the Defendant had wished to raise issues of reasonableness it should not have made an offer pursuant to CPR 36; and
  • It is incumbent on a defendant to ‘say what it means’ when making offers. The consequences of CPR 36.20 are designed to give certainty in the event that the claim is settled. The consequences of the Defendant’s offer should therefore have been construed contra preferentem in favour of the Claimants.

The Claimants also alleged that, in the alternative,  it had not been unreasonable to withdraw the claim from the Portal in light of the Defendant’s statement that it “had LVI concerns”

The Decision

At first instance, the Court dismissed the Claimants’ application on the basis that it had been unreasonable to withdraw the claim from the Portal. However, the judge did not give any reasons for dismissing the Claimants’ argument that by operation of CPR 36.20 costs payable by the Defendant were fixed to the sums set out in Table 6B for the stage at which the claim settled and that therefore the Court did not have discretion to make an order in a different amount. The judge at first instance refused permission to appeal.

The Claimants made an application for permission to appeal on the grounds that (1) the judge had failed to give reasons for their judgment, (2) that the judge was wrong in law to reject the Claimants’ argument that by operation of CPR 36.20 costs payable by the Defendant were fixed at those set out in Table 6B, and (3) that the judge was wrong in law to conclude that the Claimants’ had acted unreasonably by withdrawing the claim from the Portal.

At the appeal hearing the Court allowed the appeal on the first ground, but dismissed the second and third grounds.

The First ground was a simple question of fact. As to the third, the court held that the letter sent by the Defendant that it “had LVI concerns” was merely an indication that complex issues might be raised, but was not of itself sufficient to give rise to complexity sufficient to justify withdrawal from the Portal.

However, had the Claimants succeeded on the second ground, the reasonableness or otherwise of the Claimants’ conduct would have been irrelevant. Thus it was upon the second ground that the Claimants’ case hinged and therefore the reasons for dismissal require more detailed analysis.

In respect of the second ground, which was that CPR 36.20 provides that where a Part 36 offer is accepted within the relevant period a claimant is entitled to the costs applicable for the stage at which the claim settlement, the judge held that CPR 36.20(1) incorporates CPR 45.29A(1), which therefore incorporates CPR 45.29A(3) which incorporates CPR 45.24 (consequences of failure to comply or electing not to continue with the relevant pre-action protocol). Simply put, the judge found that where a case settles by CPR 36, the court has discretion to award a different amount to that provided for under CPR 36.20 and Table 6C if the court determines that the claimant acted unreasonably.

Analysis

CPR 36.20(2) provides that where a Part 36 offer is accepted within the relevant period, the claimant is entitled to the fixed costs in Table 6C of Section IIIA of Part 45 for the stage applicable at the date on which notice of acceptance was served on the offeror.

There is no provision within CPR 36.20 which is relevant to these facts. In particular, there is no provision which states that CPR 45 generally shall apply where a Part 36 offer is accepted within the relevant period or which provides for any discretion for the court to award any other amount.

CPR 36.20(1), states “This rule applies where (a) a claim no longer continues under the RTA or EL/PL Protocol pursuant to rule 45.29A(1)”.

So far as it is relevant CPR 45.29A(1) provides that “subject to paragraph (3), this section applies (a) to a claim started under (i) the Pre-Action Protocol for Low Value Personal Injury Claims in Road Traffic Accidents (‘the RTA Protocol’)… where such a claim no longer continue under the relevant Protocol or the Stage 3 Procedure in Practice Direction 8B”

CPR 45.29A(3) provides that “nothing in this section shall prevent the Court making an order under rule 45.24.”

The judge found that because CPR 45.29A(1) states that it is “subject to” CPR 45.29A(3), where the court considered that withdrawal from the portal was unreasonable under CPR 45.24, by virtue of CPR 45.29A(3) the claim had not “continued under the RTA Protocol” for the purpose of CPR 36.20(1). Accordingly, the Court was not bound to allow only those costs within Table 6C.

Alternative View

It is possible to argue that the judge on appeal erred in their finding as set out above.

In this case, it was a simple matter of fact that the claim had not continued under the Protocol under CPR 45.29A(1). CPR 45.29A(3) states that “nothing in this section” shall prevent the court from making an order under CPR 45.24. However, it does not state that a finding under CPR 45.24 that the claim had left the portal unreasonably would mean that section CPR 45.29A(1) did not apply. Furthermore as is clear, CPR 36.20 is not “in this section” (i.e. within CPR 45.29A) and therefore CPR 45.29A(3) is specifically dis-applied.

Summary

Claimants should careful to ensure that they do not withdraw a claim from the portal unless the defendant has actually raised a complex issue. Parties should be sure to clarify with their opponent whether there are any issues of conduct prior to the issue of proceedings and in any event before any offer of settlement is made or accepted. It is a common tactic for defendants in particular to only raise issues such as this after settlement has been agreed, as was indeed the position in this case. Written correspondence on the point prior to the acceptance of an offer should at the least give rise to an argument in estoppel should they later try to raise conduct.

Points of Dispute and Replies: The Dos and Donts

CPR 47 provides that Points of Dispute and Replies should follow “as closely as possible” the format of Precedent G. CPR 47.9 allows for the paying party to raise disputes to points in the Bill of Costs drafted by the receiving party.

Points of Dispute ‘must be short and to the point’; parties are expected to make their point in a succinct and concise way. In the recent case of Mead v British Airways PLC, the Defendant spent over seven pages setting out one point of dispute. The claimant’s reply was two pages. District Judge Moss accepted the Claimant’s position and the point was dismissed. This is a clear example that a point can be raised and dealt with concisely without the need for disproportionate and lengthy argument. Indeed, in our experience less is often more and judges can be put off and confused by excessive Points of Dispute or Replies. It is not uncommon to see assessing judges commenting to the effect that Points of Dispute were too long and whilst this may not directly affect the outcome, it may well make the judge less well-disposed to a party in the assessment.

Practitioners tempted to set out Points of Dispute or Reply at great length should bear in mind the cautionary tale of Mylward -v- Weldon [1595] EWHC Ch 1, in which the court held that the matters in dispute could have been set out in 16 pages, rather than the 120 page bundle which the claimant’s lawyer had filed. The court ordered that the claimant’s legal representative should be brought to court, and the warden “shall cut a whole in the myddest of the {bundle}, and put {the lawyer’s} head through the hole, so that it hangs about his shoulders; and then shall lead him bare headed and bare faced round about Westminster Hall whilst the Courts are sitting and shew him at the bar of every of the three Courts within the Hall, and shall then take him back again to the Fleet {prison} and keep him prisoner until he shall have paid £10 to Her Majesty for a fine, and 20 nobles to the defendant for his costs in respect of the aforesaid abuse”.

That said, it is imperative for parties to explaining the reasoning as to why they dispute an item in a Bill of Costs. It is not enough to merely state that an item is disputed; the reasons for the dispute must be disclosed. The onus is on the parties to find the correct balance of getting the point across and providing the required information to ensure the point/reply is agreed with by the DJ.

When filing Points and Replies, it is imperative all parties know the relevant dates they are required to adhere to. For context, when a formal Bill of Costs is served by the receiving party, with an N252 will be served. This gives the date for which Points of Dispute are required to be served, which in general is 21 clear days following the date of service. The paying party is permitted to request an extension of time for this, and it is at the discretion of the receiving party to grant or deny the same and there are consequences for failure to comply. Whilst the Rules state that replies to points of dispute must be filed within 21 days of receipt of the points of dispute, there is no sanction for failure to comply. Therefore there is less risk to a receiving party which serves its Replies out of time, however it is possible for the court to impose a sanction (though this is not automatic). CPR 47.13 stipulates that the receiving party may reply to the points of dispute and the receiving party may do so within 21 days. This was supported in Pipe v Electrothermal Engineering Limited where it was confirmed that the receiving party is not limited to 21 days to respond.

The main differences between the paying and receiving party are as follows: should the paying party fail to serve points of dispute within the 21 days, there could be cost implications and the receiving party would be permitted to apply to the court for a Default Costs Certificate, which is an order that the costs claimed by the receiving party be paid in full (effectively a Default Judgment in costs). Whilst it may be possible to apply to set a Default Costs Certificate aside, there is inevitably a risk that the application will not be granted and it is likely that there will be a costs sanction to the receiving party even if it is.

In summary, parties should always follow Precedent G; always ensure points and replies are short and to the point. When undertaking costs proceedings, always be aware of the deadlines and dates to adhere to ensure you are not subjecting your client to unnecessary costs.