By Trevor Hellawell
Amid suggestions that the Law Society will shortly require all estimates or quotes to be kept for 6 years in case of complaint, the Legal Ombudsman has recently reminded everyone of the need for accuracy in any communications with clients in respect of costs and charges.
The Ombudsman says that “we often see cases where the costs information provided to customers was not sufficient. Commonly, the biggest mistake firms make is not putting the information in writing or recording it properly on their case management system. Whether providing initial quotes, fee reductions or increased costs, it is important to document the information”.
For example, Mrs. J instructed a firm regarding the sale and purchase of a property in May 2014.
The client entered a verbal agreement with her friend, a solicitor at the firm, for a fee of £200. However, the friend was soon taken ill and replaced by another solicitor. The firm did not quote any other fees verbally or in writing, though there was evidence from an attendance note that the new solicitor would have to charge increased fees. The conveyance also turned out to be more complicated than expected, which meant the firm incurred more costs.
Mrs. J complained after being charged more than expected. The final bill was more than £2,000. The Ombudsman decided that the firm should refund 50% of the fee.
It was clear that the firm had not provided any costs information to Mrs. J, either at the start or throughout the process, particularly when the new solicitor took over the case; nor when it became clear that the sale and purchase was becoming more complicated.
It has long since been good practice for a firm to send a letter at the beginning of the instruction, and then to update their customer if costs increase beyond the original agreed estimate.
Quotation engines – like Brighter Law suite – enable firms instantaneously to issue accurate, tailored, written quotations at the outset of a matter and to enable any changes to that initial estimate to be logged, as well as being sent to the client, cutting off the potential for bad practice at source. Why take the risk?