When fees transparency meets unreasonable behaviour

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted in Divorce on Friday, June 28th, 2024

As lawyers, our reputation is built on the quality of our advice, the outcomes we deliver for our clients, and our commitment to transparency and honesty when it comes to explaining the fees our clients will pay for the services we provide.

It is this last aspect that will be the focus of our blog today. A recent court case between a client and the firm of solicitors handling her divorce has focused attention on what happens when cost estimates are exceeded due to a client who fails to follow advice.   

Higher than estimated costs

In Griffin v Kleyman and Co Solicitors Ltd, a client brought proceedings against the law firm handling her divorce due to the eventual cost of their services (£185,000) far exceeding their initial estimates (£60,000). She had previously instructed two other firms to act on her divorce, but was dissatisfied with their progress.

However, the law firm at the centre of the case argued that the client had ignored repeated warnings to act reasonably, causing unnecessary costs to be incurred. The significant increase on the costs initially estimated was caused, the firm argued, by the client’s refusal to agree to the sale of a joint property, which in turn caused “highly contentious” correspondence between the parties. This had not been factored into the original cost estimate.

The firm further argued that their invoices were “forensic and detailed” and were sent to the client each month, meaning that she was fully aware of the mounting costs.

The judgment

The Judge concluded that it was inevitable that the costs incurred by the client would increase due to her refusal to act in a reasonable way. The Judge therefore held that the firm was entitled to be paid for any costs that were incurred as a result of the client’s conduct, rather than just those outlined in its costs estimates.

The judge also said that, although solicitors have an obligation to warn clients against wasting time and costs, he did not believe that this obligation extended to providing estimated future costs on the assumption that the client will continue to behave unreasonably. “Even assuming that it would be possible to give a reliable estimate based on that assumption,” he continued, “the responsibility for such conduct is that of the client, not the solicitor.”

The case is now proceeding to a full costs assessment.

Our own commitment to fees transparency

This case may be an extreme example, but the fact is that asking your lawyer to do work that was not included in their original cost estimate (and especially if that work goes against their advice), then the fee you will pay for their handling of your matter is likely to increase.

On the other hand, your solicitor is responsible for ensuring that you are 100%, crystal clear on your fees at all times. At Attwaters Jameson Hill, we are committed to ensuring that no such misunderstandings develop between our lawyers and our clients. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t want to charge you any more than we have to – it’s not good for you and it’s not good for our client relationships or reputation!

This means that we are committed to full transparency on our fees, providing a full breakdown of work undertaken with each invoice, complete with itemised costs. Our client care terms outline our billing procedure: we will always provide an initial cost estimate at the beginning of your matter and update this estimate every six months – so you will always be aware if your estimates are likely to be exceeded.

Get in touch

If you are looking to instruct a law firm that genuinely cares about fee transparency, Attwaters Jameson Hill is here to help. Speak to us today on 0330 221 8855.

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