Are you Compliant?
The recent case of Rahimian & Anor v Allan Janes LLP has again raised the issue of compliance with the provisions of the Solicitors Act 1974 when billing clients. It is vital that the bill describes the work that has been done on their behalf clearly, as Dr Rahimian’s Solicitors discovered. Alex Taylor, PIC, reports.
In Rahimian & Anor v Allan Janes LLP, Solicitors had acted for the Claimants in contentious proceedings and had submitted a final bill. The Claimant had paid this and then requested his papers in order to request a detailed assessment hearing. The Claimant did not serve the Claim form within the stipulated four months and thus his right to an assessment had elapsed.
The important point is that although the Claimant had agreed the bill was final – but as his right to assessment had elapsed – the claimant sought another route to challenge the fees.
The Claimant sought to obtain an order for assessment by issuing fresh proceedings under Section 68 of the Solicitors Act 1974. His argument was that the bills he had received did not contain sufficient information to assess the reasonableness of the charges and that he should therefore receive a final bill containing full details. He would then have this assessed.
The significant issue concerned whether the Claimant could demonstrate that the invoices he had received were not bills due to the lack of information contained therein.
Master Gordon-Saker decided that the final bill did categorically not contain sufficient information to enable the Claimant to obtain advice as to the reasonability of the costs claimed therein.
The Defendant had supplied the Claimant with 22 invoices, of which only the final three contained any information as to the work done for their relevant periods. The Master found that if one were to take all 22 bills as one document, the lack of information regarding the work done prior to the final three invoices rendered the bill non-compliant with the 1974 Act.
As the Claimant did not have the knowledge to which he was entitled to by the Act and as such, he was entitled to the order sought. Therefore, upon receipt of a compliant final bill he would be entitled to seek Detailed Assessment of the same.
Master Gordon-Saker referred to the judgement in Garry v Gwillim when making his decision. In that case, the Court of Appeal considered whether a series of bills submitted by a Solicitor complied with S.69 of the Solicitors Act 1974. In that case, Ward LJ summarised the following authorites:
Cook v Gillard
“The defendant who undertakes to prove that the bill is not a bona fide compliance with the Act cannot found an objection upon want of information in the bill, if it appears that he is already in possession of that information … a client has no ground of objection to a bill who is in possession of all the information that can be reasonably wanted for the consulting on taxation.”
Eversheds v Osman
Nourse LJ stated the test to be: is the client unable to judge as to the justice of the amount of the fees which are charged?
“I would accept the proper principle to be that there must be something in the written bill to indicate the ambit of the work but that inadequacies of description of the work done may be redressed by accompanying documents … or by other information already in the possession of the client. That, it seems to me, would serve the purpose of the Act to give the client the knowledge he reasonably needs in order to decide whether to insist on taxation. If the solicitor satisfies that then the bill is one bone fide complying with the Act.”
Solicitors are facing ever greater scrutiny of their charges. With this in mind, our advice is to establish whether your agreement with your client allows for interim bills or final bills and that the required information is supplied