A client's unreasonable behaviour means that a firm in a divorce case should not be limited to the amounts set out in its costs estimate, a judge has ruled. 

Costs Judge Leonard conceded that London firm Kleyman & Co Solicitors should have updated its estimate from July 2020 when it became clear that the figure given then would be exceeded. But in Griffin v Kleyman & Co Solicitors Ltd, the judge concluded that the client ignored repeated warnings to act in a reasonable way and habitually caused unnecessary costs to be incurred, making it inevitable that the estimate would be exceeded.

As such, the firm was entitled to be paid for any costs incurred as a result of the client’s conduct.

The court was asked to decide on the preliminary issue of whether costs should be limited by reference to estimates given while the firm acted for the client. She applied for an assessment of the bills rendered for work undertaken between March 2020 and June 2021. These bills come to almost £182,000 in total. 

The court heard that the client had previously instructed two other firms and changed her representatives because she did not feel sufficient progress was being made.

When the client instructed Kleyman & Co, she had stressed that she was very concerned about costs. In July 2020, the firm advised that it had applied for a £60,000 extension on a litigation loan to cover all costs, although it stressed that it was difficult to estimate an exact figure.

The client had replied: ‘I know I have no choice now. But it better be worth it.’

The case went to trial in September with the court making arrangements for the sale of a joint property. But the client refused to agree to the sale, which reignited a pattern of ‘highly contentious’ correspondence with the husband.

In a hearing in January this year, the client said the firm had a professional obligation to provide a costs estimate at the outset of the retainer and was fully aware of her limited funds and concerns about accruing costs. While the estimate had been for £60,000, she submitted, the firm had billed almost £185,000 by the end of its instruction.

The firm said it had not been possible to give more information. The invoices billed were ‘forensic and detailed’ and had been sent every month, so the client was fully aware of her liability.

The judge concluded that the client was so disappointed by the outcome of her case that she lost all perspective and made assertions ‘entirely unsupported’ by credible evidence.

‘Any solicitor would have an obligation to warn such a client against wasting time and costs, but I do not believe that the obligation could extend to providing an estimate of future costs based upon the assumption that the client will continue to behave unreasonably,’ added the judge. ‘Even assuming that it would be possible to give a reliable estimate based on that assumption, the responsibility for such conduct is that of the client, not the solicitor.’

The matter will now proceed to a full costs assessment.


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