A London firm has lost a £36,000 costs appeal in a dispute with a former client it represented in a claim against his former solicitors and another brought by his parents.

Richard Slade and Company billed James Murray £16,200 for work on his claim against Hodders Law for alleged professional negligence after he allegedly terminated a conditional fee agreement when he requested the return of his papers.

The firm also sought £20,000.03 to cover counsel’s fees relating to a claim brought by Murray’s parents for declarations that they were beneficial owners of properties held in his name, which settled just before trial.

Murray challenged the bills and both were disallowed in February by Master Howarth, who held that the firm terminated the CFA ‘without good cause or on reasonable notice’ and that Richard Slade instructed new counsel ‘of his own volition without authority from the client’.

Richard Slade appealed to the High Court, which dismissed the firm’s appeal this month. Sir Andrew Nicol said Howarth was entitled to find both that Murray had not terminated the CFA and that counsel was instructed without his authority.

Nicol rejected the contention that Murray ended the Hodders retainer when he complained about the conduct of the claim, and that his complaints did not amount to ‘a repudiatory breach of that agreement’.

The judge also did not agree that the correspondence between Murray and Richard Slade showed ‘an irretrievable breakdown’ in trust and confidence, entitling the firm to cease acting and bill Murray for work done to date.

‘In modern times, solicitors have to accept that complaints (whether of poor service or as to fees) go with the territory of professional practice,’ Nicol added.