Back to basics…

Shannon Hartin – Client Relations Executive

Our Shannon Hartin looks at the mistakes that can be too easily made, taking us back to basics.

As legal professionals we are constantly faced with changes, with so much to keep updated with the everyday fundamentals can often be overlooked, causing mistakes, omissions and oversights – having a detrimental effect on your cost recovery.

Whilst the below is completely obvious to most, both the novice and the elite find themselves making mistakes. Looking at the common issues PIC come across, have you considered the following questions?

Are you getting it right with your retainer?

Too often we see precedent documents from some case-management systems used on cases regardless of their suitability or, in some cases, legality. Get your retainer wrong and you may find yourself not getting paid at all for many years of hard work, even though that hard work could well have resulted in a substantial victory for your client. Take the time to get it right.

Ensure the rates within the retainer are those suitable for the complexity of the case. We often see very high blanket rates of £400 plus per hour within the retainer and unless you’re based in the City or Central London working on complex cases, you may find the recovery on assessment below your expectations. PIC will work with you to ensure the appropriate rates are applied considering complexity, specialisms and panel memberships. Ensure you build in appropriate review points for hourly rates, making clear why any increases occur in file notes, and recovery is likely to be closer to your WIP.

Are you recording everything you do on a case?

Setting aside obvious issues, such as a need to document the advice given and instructions received, from a costs perspective, it is important to document what was done when and how long it took as substantial claims for estimated time are unlikely to prove recoverable (Brush -v- Bower, Cotton & Bower), even if the presence or otherwise of a file note is not determinative – Bills of Costs are certified as to their accuracy after all. Discrepancies between costs claimed and time recorded will require explanation, with doubt being resolved in the favour of the paying party on most assessments, it is not wise to allow doubt to develop.

 Are you monitoring your costs against your approved budget?

Costs Budgets set the amount that may be paid, absent a good reason to the contrary. There’s a good chance that work done outside an approved budget is work for which a solicitor will not be paid, meaning what work done should be constantly monitored against the available budget and applications made to the Court when there is a significant development in the litigation. PIC work with our clients to ensure that the Budgets are constantly monitored and updated to reflect the case plan.

Before you travel to your client, are they able to travel to you?

For various reasons, it often can seem appropriate to travel to attend on clients in their homes – perhaps they appear more comfortable in that environment or, as they are paying you, there is some suggestion that you ought to go to them. There are; however, issues with such an approach. Firstly, unless your client is hospitalised or otherwise bedbound, the test applied in the Ledward cases could easily mean that travel time and expenses are not recoverable inter parties. Secondly, if the reason for travel is to sign a client up to a retainer (or to make an offer to do so), more onerous consumer protection requirements apply to that contract of retainer, requirements that it is all too easy to fall foul of. Rather than simply travelling for free, you could be conducting the case for free. Remember to ask yourself, should I really be travelling to see the client.

Here at PIC we work with our clients to ensure these common mistakes, omissions and oversights do not happen. Whether it be training on time-recording for trainees to ensure they get it right from the outset or health checks on your retainers to ensure enforceability. If you would like to arrange a training session at your firm, or if you have any queries, please do not hesitate to get in touch. 01302 386688.