Regular readers may recall I recently raised the issue of the problem child – the client who costs you more money than you can hope to recover. What form does a problem child take?
Medical issues can be the cause – it is not always due to a ‘bloody minded client’. In one case, a client had an RTA which resulted in her sustaining moderate injuries but as the years went by the client became worse not better. The Judge at trial declared Munchhausen Syndrome By Proxy as a result of the mother’s influence and so the client who was expected to get a several figure sum, received a five figure sum instead and the solicitor client only recovered part of the costs.
A similar form may be that which is undermined by surveillance evidence, such was the case in Booth v Britannia Hotels. In that case, a chambermaid was claiming serious injuries but was caught out showing characteristics that were those of a fit and healthy person. Costs were awarded to the Claimant but on the basis that she only receive costs as if she were pursuing a case for £3500 as opposed to a six figure sum.
Can the relationship be recovered? In a case involving a large PI company, the client questioned whether anything was going to be done on his case following a site inspection several months earlier. This was deemed by the firm as ‘relationship broken down irrecoverably’ aka they did not think that the case was winnable. The case was picked up by a small firm who were happy to take a risk and speak to the parties involved and a result was achieved.
In all these examples, the need for good solicitor-client relationships is highlighted. Know your client – pick up the phone instead of emailing or writing a letter. As a wise man once said however, if something important is worth saying, it is worth writing as it maintains a record of any difficulties and steps taken to resolve the issue. It also solves the issue that a local Judge keeps mentioning – what would happen if the solicitor were knocked down and someone else had to pick up the case?
Supervision is also an important weapon to protect from the problem child. Not all supervision is chargeable as profit costs, but those who remember the A + B factor in determining hourly rates will recall the A was for work done and overheads and B was for profit. Included in the A bit was an allowance for supervision, so use it. It not only offers the chance of an independent eye to spot the problem child, but also offers the chance to protect the firms’ name and reputation that a divisive hacked of litigant may cause.
As a costs draftsman, why should I care about the problem child – because it affects costs recoverability. When I first started this job, all I argued about was 6 minute units – you should have read the report in 24 mins instead of 30 mins. Those were the days. Now, its fending off allegations of fraud, malingering, misrepresentation, defective retainers, exceeding estimates, after the event insurance. The stakes have gone up considerably. So to make my job easier, watch out for those problem children and sort it out immediately, so I can concentrate on arguing over those 6 minutes once more.