Tuesday, 31 December 2013

How to take Solicitors to Court

When one receives a solicitors letter one is usually at awe and a little scarred. On this occasion I will recount how I took a firm of Solicitors to court for not paying my fees and won obtaining an out of court settlement.

I am a medical expert and do a lot of medico-legal report writing. I was approached by a firm of solicitors on the 7th January 2011 (Bell Lamb Joynsons) to do a causation report on one of their clients who was accused of an assault. My fees for the report and court appearance was agreed with my secretary by email prior to my undertaking the work. I examined the documents and photographs that were provided and produced a report. My report disagreed with previous medical opinion. I was therefore asked to appear in court as an expert witness at very short notice on the 9th February 2011. I arrived at court at 10 am at Warrington County Court. I was informed that the Jaguar car of the Barrister for the defence had broken down and she would be late. She arrived two hours late keeping the court and all the witness wait for her. She did not apologise for her late arrival. I have never seen a barrister so badly prepared for the case. She did not even have time to talk to her key witness. The British legal system has a caste system similar to the one that is seen in Indian society. The barrister is on the top of the pile. However barristers like these neither justify their position nor their fees. It is about time that  the legal system is revised.

In court my report was presented. My report should have been disclosed to the prosecution prior to the start of the trial. This was a failure of the solicitor who instructed me namely Bell Lamb and Joynson. My report contradicted the medical evidence given the previous day by a junior doctor who did not have the experience to challenge my opinion. The court was adjourned. I invoiced BLJ for my report and court appearance and was paid the agreed fee. The matter did not end there; the prosecution decided to persist with the case and obtained another medical opinion.

Bell Lamb Joynson asked me to review this report and produce another report. I was asked to appear in court  on the 15th August 2011 and gave evidence. At the conclusion of the case a further invoice was presented to BLJ for the second report and the court appearance. They acknowledged receipt of my invoice on the 26th August 2011 and said that they would endeavour to settle it as soon as possible. Several months later they informed me that I should submit the invoice directly to the court. The court paid me a mere
£ 350.00 and after further correspondence paid another £ 50.00 This was adding insult to injury. If this is what the court pays for a medical expert not many experts will be prepared to testify in court.

When the solicitors failed to pay my fee and stopped responding to phone calls I forwarded the account to my debt collecting agency. My debt collecting agency later informed that they were unable to collect the fee and I would have to take the solicitors to the small claims court to recover my fee. On this occasion I used the solicitor from the debt collecting to prepare the case. I cost me a further £200.00 . My subsequent experience has shown that this is unnecessary and the service of the solicitor can be dispensed with completely. A good article on how to go to a small claims court is Resolving the dispute without going to court

The court initially suggested mediation and a telephone conference with the court appointed mediator. BLJ were unreasonable in rejecting my offer of accepting two thirds of what was owed to me. I decided to take them to court this required a further court fee of £70. Two days before the trial BLJ contacted me agreeing the fee that I was prepared to accept at mediation. I now rejected this since I have incurred additional expense. Finally we agreed a  fee and settled out of court.

During this process I complained to the Solicitors Regulator Authority it claims to protect consumer and raise the standards of solicitors. My experience with them was that it is an organisation of solicitor aiming to protect the solicitors. A major change is required to ensure the independence of the organisation.

My message to medical experts is:

  1. Clearly outline your fees to the solicitor before undertaking any work especially in legal aided cases.
  2. Get confirmation from the solicitor that the court has agreed your fees.
  3. Send a detailed itemised  invoice.
  4. Do not accept the standard court fee it insults your expertise.
  5. Do not hesitate to take solicitors or firms that they employ to court, the process is simple.
  6. However make sure that they have not gone burst before taking court action