I was recently instructed by a firm of solicitors to attend a Detailed Assessment hearing following what appeared to be a very poor decision at Provisional Assessment.
The Solicitors had used previously a costs drafting firm based in South West Lancashire to draft the bill, prepare Replies and negotiate settlement and progress the matter. They had advised the solicitor that they could not attend the hearing (no idea why)
The matter was a Road Traffic Accident involving 2 passengers and had gone to Trial on the basis that it was staged accident. The Solicitors had made 2 Part 36 Offers, one in May 2012 (prior to issue) and one in June 2014 (months before Trial). Both were beaten at Trial but the Court only awarded Standard Base costs.
The Claimants who initially instructed that they were able to understand English later suggested that they could not and suggested that they could understand Polish. Translation of documents were therefore provided in Polish and certified and a Trial listed for Autumn 2013. However, the Claimants at the Trial stated that they did not understand Polish and advised that they required a Slovak Interpreter. They were of course ordered to pay the costs of the vacated Trial.
The drafted bill came out at £59,000 (including 100% Success Fee) and included the additional costs in relation to the first translation and interpretation (there was no order to exclude them).
In addition, the bill bizarrely had been split into 3 parts – Part 1 for work prior to 1st April 2013; Part 2 for work prior to the 2nd Part 36 Offer; and Part 3 for work conducted post the 2nd Part 36 Offer. Despite the order making no mention of indemnity costs, the bill appeared to claim the same. Although a claim for indemnity costs was made, the drafter did not think it was necessary to mention anything about the pre-issue Part 36 Offer which was soundly beaten at Trial. In fact, the Bill was in effect misleading as it made no mention of any costs orders that had been made against the Claimants (of which there were 2)
Points of Dispute were served and mostly contained template points (unfortunately as many do nowadays) and general deductions as to time. Unfortunately, the Replies were much worse as they mostly failed to deal with the issues raised in the Points. They failed, like the bill, to refer to how and why the costs were incurred and why they should be deemed proportionate. There were also clear occasions where the file was not even reviewed when the Replies were drafted and sent to the Solicitor in good faith.
At the resulting Provisional Assessment, the Court made its assessment and following the same, the Defendant (who had previously made Part 36 Costs Offers of £38,500) calculated that the assessment came out at around £26,800.00.
The Claimant did not make their own calculation and replied back seeking to accept the £38,500 without any costs consequences (a tactic used previously by this particular firm – clearly they must have thought it was a good offer after all).
I received the full file of papers just 13 days before the hearing along with the bill, PODS and Replies and made my own calculation of the PA. I suggested that it came out at approximately £1,000 more.
Just one week before the hearing, the costs draftsman released their file to the solicitors and upon receipt I had noticed that it was the costs draftsman who had sent the request for the oral assessment. There appeared in the file no advice to the solicitor regarding the same and certainly no advice regarding the Part 36 offer.
Now knowing what items were to be challenged, I arranged for the appropriate papers in support of the bill to be filed at Court (albeit a few days late).
Upon considering the challenges and the papers it was quite clear that the result was a fair one and advice was given against proceeding to the oral hearing. I cited clear errors within the Replies which I had found from reviewing the papers and also noted omissions from the bill which if both had been dealt with earlier could have avoided such a terrible result.
Unfortunately, against advice I was instructed to attend the hearing and upon going through a page-by-page assessment of the papers it became clear that the problem was much worse than first thought.
The bill had been drafted poorly and was on the verge of being found to be wholly inaccurate with many items duplicated – a potential for the PA result to be reduced even further.
I therefore took instructions to settle the matter at the figure assessed at PA along with the costs of the assessment to be paid to the Paying Party.
However, during the lunch time break it was also found that the PA figure that the Defendant had put forward had never been agreed or even challenged by the costs draftsman. As such, I had to take instructions on whether I should agree the Defendant’s figure (as a re-calculation no doubt would have increased costs – and by not even bothering to challenge the same, the costs draftsman had by way of conduct accepted the same)
Whilst it clearly was not a great result for the solicitor client, it highlighted the fact that the costs drafting firm used in this case was:
Not up to the task of drafting a bill accurately and honestly;
Not able to prepare Replies accurately taking into account the facts of the case or the file of papers;
Not competent enough to even calculate what the assessment figure was so compelling the solicitor client to accept the Defendant’s calculations
Not willing or able to attend the assessment (despite their advice being to request an oral hearing)
Potentially negligent in giving advice or not as the case may be in respect of the Part 36 Offer
Oh despite all this, they still want their 35 hours bill drafting fee paid and their £1,500 assessment costs paid on top.
Here at White Collar (Legal and Admin) Ltd, we can draft bills accurately and honestly taking into account all of the facts to ensure maximum recovery of your costs in as quick a time as possible.
We have a fee structure that ensures the same – i.e. our fees will depend on your costs recovery.
We will provide advice at the outset before your bill is served so you know roughly how the case is going to run and at what cost.
As an example, we recently drafted an RTA Bill of Costs. Because our bill told the full story and was honest, we recovered Grade B rates for the RTA Claim which settled at Allocation and for a sum of just £3,000 damages.
We have a 73% recovery rate and all settlements have been achieved prior to PODS (because the Defendant’s don’t have a leg to stand on)
If you require any of our costs drafting services, why not try us out for 1 file and compare us.
I say us of course to mean the company however to be honest as always it is just me.