Unfortunately, despite everything the legal profession has tried to put in place to ensure that clients are not unduly surprised by their legal bills, it does still happen. I had one client admit to me that after their experience with the legal profession, any quote for services they received; their expectation was that the bill would end up at double the quoted amount.
Law firms, like any other business, still have to recover their fees and are in a better place than most businesses to start court proceedings to get them.
A friend of mine received a bill from lawyers for about five times the amount expected, and after attempting to make very clear to their lawyer that they did not have funds to get involved in court proceedings. Despite what my friend thought had been clear, the lawyer sent a letter which pushed the other party to start court proceedings. When the bill wasn't paid, the lawyers sued for their fees in the court. My friend went to court alone and self represented due to lack of funds.
Without seeing the claim and based upon the particular circumstances my friend explained to me, I made these suggestions:
- Your defence may not answer the claim. You need to deny that any monies are owed, and that if any monies are owed (which is not admitted), then the costs charged are excessive and unreasonable.
Essentially I would expect that the lawyers would have claimed that you retained them, you instructed them and they performed work for you, for which they now say you should pay.
- You should admit that you attended their offices the day you did but deny that you retained them, stating that you expected that interview to be an initial interview prior to provision of services, then state that, in accordance with your expectation that that interview was an initial interview for which there would be no charge, you were not provided with a retainer agreement at that time or until a time when they knew or ought to have known that you would not have the opportunity to review it (being overseas).
As an alternative,
- State that it was unreasonable to have two persons present for that interview charging at a senior lawyer rate and that the costs for that interview were excessive and unreasonable in the circumstances.
You cannot deny that they performed work for you, which in fact you have admitted anyway.
- You can however state that the services provided were not the services that you requested and that you deny any liability for the cost of services not requested by you. This is relevant to your specific instructions that they not involve you in court proceedings and, contrary to those specific instructions they took action which they knew or ought to have known would do exactly that.
- What you are counterclaiming is that there was no contract in the first place – a contract requires a meeting of minds, which there was not. And, in the alternative, if there was a contract for services (which is denied) then they were negligent in the performance of those services, causing you loss and damage as you have set out.
After providing the law firm with an amended defence my friend reached an agreement to pay one quarter of the costs sued for, and to pay off that amount over a period of 12 months.