The arguments are the same, but from different voices. Why should clients not challenge costs deductions?
There is irony in much of the hot air surrounding this most heated of debates around costs inflation right now. So many of the arguments used by firms pursuing other firms on behalf of clients who feel overcharged are the exact same points advanced by PI lawyers who led the claims in the first place.
The firms making costs claims say they are pursuing justice for wronged ex-clients. Their detractors say they are cashing in on a cottage industry and encouraging naïve people to make spurious claims. This all sounds very familiar.
Reading the latest judgment on this issue, the tactics after claims have been issued brings a sense of déjà vu.
Philip Swain was a former client of J C & A Ltd who was now represented by JG Solicitors and asking for disclosure of his files. The PI firm’s response was to write directly to Swain ‘seeking clarification’ as to whether the signature on the authority was his. He was asked to confirm he was aware of ‘what is being done purportedly in [his] name’, and warned that his costs liability to JG Solicitors could run to ‘between £4,000 and £7,000’.
I have heard many complaints – with good reason – from PI firms whose clients have been contacted in a similar vein by insurers. The firms are bypassed and their clients intimidated and urged to reconsider their claim.
Is there really a difference between insurers trying to scare off PI claimants and the letter sent to Swain?
In a sense, the arguments so far around disclosure have been a warm-up. The substantive issue – whether firms have overcharged clients and what to do about it – waits in the wings. In Swain, fee-earners worked at £250 an hour. There has to be a good reason outlined for such costs.
What is certain is that courts are going to have to get a grip of this burgeoning legal minefield. At the moment, too many judgments appear to contradict themselves and it may well end up with joined-up cases in the Court of Appeal to settle things.
In the meantime, the debate continues. But PI firms must answer this: if injured claimants deserved access to justice for one grievance, why should they be denied access when they want to pursue another?