Not only is it prudent and good practice, but it is essential that clients are regularly provided with estimates of their potential legal costs and are appraised in that regard.
The SRA require lawyers to provide their clients with the best possible information regarding the cost of the matter. This should be provided at the outset and reviewed and updated as and when necessary. Estimates of costs up to a particular stage are inadequate to meet the SRA requirements, an estimate of costs up to the conclusion of the claim is required.
The SRA requires lawyers at the outset to analyse whether pursuing the claim is commercially viable. Does the outcome justify the risk of having to pay someone else’s fees? So, an explanation needs to be given to the client of the likely costs of the claim, to include both party’s costs and whether the claim is worth pursuing in view of that. This should be reviewed throughout the lifetime of the claim and updated if appropriate. The reasoning is that the client should be able to make a fully informed decision when deciding to pursue litigation, a partial estimate does not allow this.
This is good practice in any event as it ensures that your client’s expectations are managed and will lead to no surprises. This transparency can lead to less disputes regarding the level of fees and the avoidance of any complaints in law firms which centre around fees.
The type or complexity of the claim will really depend on how sophisticated the estimate will need to be, however scoping the work properly will alleviate any scope creep.
Moreover, preparing an estimate of how much you consider that the claim will cost will assist regarding your approach, a more informed decision can be made regarding this. Providing this information does show confidence in pricing and in any event this more sophisticated pricing is being seen in the marketplace.
In the event of scope creep, a detailed estimate can assist and justify those further costs that are associated with the additional work. It is wise to keep your client informed if any of the out of scope work is not recoverable from the otherside, failure to do so may put you at risk regarding those additional costs.
In addition to identifying out of scope work, it is sensible to monitor your estimate and advise the client if the estimate is subject to change. If a detailed estimate has been provided at the outset it will be much easier to explain why the estimate requires increasing.
The draconian sanctions and restrictions surrounding budgets do not apply to estimates, the estimates are used as a yardstick to measure reasonableness. It is not intended to be straight jacket, that said, they do need to be prepared with care because if the client can show reliance and the matter proceeds to solicitor and own client assessment then your costs are at risk of a reduction as a result of that reliance.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and 0113 336 3389, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622