Kerry-Anne Moore, Costs Lawyer and Director at Checkmylegalfees.com Ltd sets out some key dos and don'ts for litigants in person faced with the daunting prospect of being sued by their former solicitor. We hope that the following pointers will at least assist litigants in person in avoiding common pitfalls of the litigation process
CMLF has been receiving an increasing number of enquiries from litigants in person who are understandably upset and frankly out of their depth after receiving court proceedings relating to unpaid legal fees. Most people have left seeking help until the last minute and have not appreciated the gravity of the situation. In the majority of cases that cross my desk, the solicitors have been wrong to issue proceedings against their former clients for unpaid fees because no final statute bill has been delivered and / or there has been a procedural error. However, these are (understandably) not challenges known to the average person on the street and most people's instinct is to defend the claimKerry-Anne Moore
- Seek advice immediately upon receipt of a solicitor's invoice or bill that you are concerned about – at CMLF we will give you free initial advice without any obligation for you to instruct us
- Acknowledge the claim within the specified time period using the form the Court has sent you - for access to court forms and guidance on how to complete them go to www.gov.uk and search 'forms'.
- Be pragmatic when admitting or denying the claim – if you know that you are liable to pay legal fees but your only concern is the amount of the fees you owe then explain this within the acknowledgment of service and/or defence, so the Judge is aware. Simply denying the claim in full will not assist your case.
- If the bill is still within the time limits for assessment under the Solicitors Act, your Defence should invite the Court to order such an assessment
- Be aware that as soon as the solicitor sues you for unpaid legal fees that you automatically become liable for further costs!
- Try and speak to the solicitor and make whatever offer you feel is a reasonable for the fees.
- Keep copies of ALL correspondence between you and the solicitor relating to fees.
- Ignore a solicitor's invoice or bill. If you are unhappy with the level of fees, then seek specialist advice. You have a statutory right to seek assessment of your solicitor's fees, but strict time limits apply so do not delay!
- Ignore the claim form or any court documents – you could have the debt entered against you as a County Court Judgment (CCJ). This will show up on a credit search and may effect your ability to obtain credit in the future (i.e. mortgage and loan applications. It is also disclosable in some areas of employment).