Did your solicitor correctly serve a valid bill on you?
If not you have an unlimited time in which to challenge your bill
(Even if you have already paid it)!
Whether your solicitor has served you with a bill of costs correctly and in the correct format have significant implicationsin terms of the remedies available to you and action your solicitor is permitted to take.
Often solicitors fail to appreciate the need to provide their client with a proper interim statute bill or final statute bill which complies with the requirements set down within the Solicitors Act 1974.
Many law firms send their clients interim bills. These bills are usually a simple short form invoice which does not detail the work undertaken. The question then arises as to whether this amounts to an interim statute bill or an invoice for payment on account. This is an issue of fact in each case.
To determine this point, the first consideration is the retainer between you and your solicitor. This often states whether an invoice is to be considered an interim invoice or an interim statute bill. If the retainer does not provide for the solicitor to render an interim statute bill the solicitor is not permitted to do so. If the retainer does permit an interim statute bill the solicitor should have clearly explained the implications of this should you wish to challenge your solicitor’s costs
Charles from Check My Legal Fees said “If it is an interim invoice the solicitor cannot enforce payment and the time period in which you can challenge your solicitor’s bill does not commence.”
If it is an interim statute bill you have an automatic right to challenge the bill within 1 month of receipt and on application within 1 year of receipt (Whether you have paid it or not). If the bill is not compliant or not served correctly the time limits for you to challenge your solicitor’s bill do not start.
If the bill is a proper statute bill but does not comply with the provisions of the Solicitors Act 1974 in relation to service, then no bill for the purposes of the Solicitors Act 1974 has been delivered and any action a solicitor takes is likely to be null and void.
Section 69 (1) of the Solicitors Act 1974 prevents any action being brought by a solicitor to recover any costs due prior to the expiration of one month from the date on which a bill of the costs sought is delivered in accordance with the requirements detailed in Section 69 (2).
The requirements of Section 69 (2) are:
- that the bill must have been signed
- must have been delivered to the party to be charged in person, or be delivered to that party via post or left at the client’s place of business, house dwelling-house or last known place of abode
- or delivered to that party by means of an electronic communications network. But only where the client has previously indicated agreement to service of an invoice via this method of communication.
In addition to the requirements detailed above a further issue can often arise where the bill does not provide a sufficient narrative to qualify as a statute bill. Where there is insufficient narrative the bill presented to the client will not qualify as a statute bill and the time limits for the client to challenge the solicitor’s bill or for the solicitor to enforce the bill does not start.
This was addressed in Rahimian -v- Allan Janes LLP  EWHC B18. In this case, having reviewed previous authorities, it was confirmed that where the client can establish there is not a sufficient narrative within the bill to identify what it is the client is being charged for, and that the client does not have sufficient information from other documents in the client’s possession or from what he has been advised by his solicitor to obtain advice whether or not challenge the bill, the bill served does not amount to a statute bill which complies with the Solicitors Act 1974.
If bills received do not amount to a statute bill it is possible to challenge solicitors costs incurred within the last 6 years. Clearly this can have a significant impact where solicitors are instructed in long running litigation or where solicitors are retained to advise businesses or individuals on an ongoing basis.