Professional Negligence lawyer, Emma Slade, knows what it is like to be a Litigant in Person and recognises that flexible funding options for parties involved in a dispute are essential
I qualified as a solicitor in 1995 and have been dealing with civil disputes since then. Sufficient time, you would imagine, to become fully conversant and almost blasé about the legal system – but you want to know my scariest moment in the law? No, it wasn’t dealing with an injunction only five days after I qualified and appearing before a Circuit Judge without a gown and wearing a bright orange suit (it was 1995!) or having to appear before their Lordships in what was then the House of Lords. No. The scariest moment I have ever had in the law is when proceedings were issued against me in my personal capacity.
Sure, I know about disclosure and statements. I can quote you the CPR, advise on offers and conduct mediations. I like to think I have a clear head and can see the wood for the trees, where to go, what to do and how to achieve the best outcome. But my case? Nope. Suddenly, that clear head was stuffed with cotton wool and the trees became an impenetrable forest.
Dealing with that case was a real learning curve for me. Beforehand, I had taken it for granted that a case could be easily dealt with, but now simple issues of disclosure flummoxed me and the statements, rather than being cutting edge diatribes became verbose, convoluted and woolly versions of War & Peace. All of a sudden I had total sympathy with my clients. I mean, what is Disclosure? What should I put in my statement?
Time and time again, I have received enquiries from potential clients where either their claim falls within the small claims limit (currently £10,000 for professional negligence claims – which means, regardless of whether you win or lose, you have to pay your own legal costs), the case isn’t suitable for a no win – no fee agreement or they simply cannot afford to pay a lawyer. In these instances they normally only have one option; being a litigant-in-person. How do they cope?
Litigation is not cheap. The hourly rate for a solicitor can be as much as the monthly food bill for a family of four so the thought of a solicitor or barrister dealing with the whole of a case, especially when the value of the case is relatively low, can make people wince. But what other option is there? A little bedtime reading of the Civil Procedure Rules? A chat with an unqualified advisor at the Citizens Advice Bureau? A Noddy Guide to the Law picked up at the local library that is five years out of date?
Even if the client manages to work their way through the Civil Procedure Rules and manages to speak to someone who is qualified, having knowledge of the procedure is not always enough. How many times have you had an obscure question that a Google search can’t provide? Or you leave an appointment and realise there was another question you had but it is too late to go back in?
Many solicitors realise that funding a case is difficult and that running your own case maybe even more troublesome. But just having someone legally trained at the end of the phone to provide advice and information can instil a lot of confidence in a litigant-in-person. Suddenly, they are not completely alone. Certainly, at Slee Blackwell, we offer type of service: we charge our normal chargeout rate but obviously, only for the work we do. In a low value claim, do you really want a solicitor to be charging you the price of half a tank of petrol just in acknowledging a letter when you can do that yourself just as easily? Or would you prefer to spend that money in asking the solicitor’s advice about the merits of an offer or what takes place in mediation? You can ask the solicitor to do as much or as little as you like: advise you on how to conduct a hearing or even doing the hearing for you; reviewing a witness statement or drafting it for you: Even putting you in contact with a barrister who could do the final trial for you. In short, it is up to the client.
And the cost? Again, it is up to the client. The solicitor will charge their usual hourly rate with hours broken up into segments of six minutes. The client can ask for a cap to be placed on the time and a solicitor should also do their best to, not only give the client an idea of the likely costs of each task but also to keep the client advised of the costs position on a regular basis. Methods of payment can also be relatively flexible: rendering a bill when the costs get to a certain level or entering into a regular payment plan.
If you find yourself in this situation, please don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and speak to professional negligence solicitors. We are more than happy to help and give you practical guidance on what to do and the best method of funding your dispute.
And as for my case? Well, I won it of course!