Informing the client about costs
Civil legal aid is not free. Just as an applicant must pay a contribution at the start of the case, they may be under an obligation to pay back the some or all of the cost we spent on their legal aid, if monies or property are recovered on their behalf (including an award of damages). It is important that clients are fully aware that we may retain our costs where there is any possibility of a client recovering monies or property.
Section 68 of the Solicitors (Amendment) Act 1994 contains a requirement that all solicitors inform their clients of the basis they intend to charge them. To that end, an applicant must be sent the standard Letter of Engagement as per è Chapter 5 of the Administrative Procedures Handbook. The solicitor taking the case must check that this letter has been sent. There is a standalone letter regarding costs sent to applicants who have been referred to private practitioners.
You should advise clients from time to time of the potential costs of representation. For example, every additional authority/amended legal aid certificate granted is a potential extra cost to the client. If you feel that additional services are required, discuss this with the client beforehand – with particular emphasis on the costs implications - and obtain their consent. This is particular the case with retaining Counsel. Both Legal Services and the law centre should record all items of financial expenditure (whether billable or not) on the Financial tab in EOS.
If there is the possibility of a settlement that will give rise to a liability for costs, you should make the client aware of the likely amount of costs that will be deducted from the settlement. It is important for you to be aware of costs when you are negotiating a settlement and that such costs are taken into account. It should be the norm to get written instructions from the client in relation to the settlement and those instructions should acknowledge the requirement to lodge settlement monies to the Fund and our entitlement to deduct costs from the amount of the settlement. Authority should be sought from the client to enable the solicitor to endorse the settlement cheque if that is possible.