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FAQ: Dispute over professional fees

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The Law Society’s Practice Advice Service outlines the support the Law Society provides for disputes over professional fees and considers whether there is a duty to inform the client 

I have a dispute with a barrister over professional fees. What support does the Law Society provide in such cases, and must I tell my client about the situation that has arisen?

Since 31 January 2013 barristers are able to sue solicitors for fees. See the Law Society’s Practice Note on Instructing a barrister: new standard contractual terms, which is available here.

The Law Society offers, in conjunction with the Bar Council, a joint tribunal service aimed at resolving fee disputes between solicitors and barristers. It can be invoked by either a solicitor, disputing counsel’s fees, or by counsel who has not received payment in full from an instructing solicitor. There is no cost in invoking or participating in the joint tribunal.  Any decision of the joint tribunal is final, and there is no appeal process. Any award issued must be settled within 14 days.

The existing joint tribunal arrangements will remain as a form of alternative dispute resolution.

The solicitor’s duty to discuss costs with the client is set out at Outcome (1.13) of the SRA Code of Conduct 2011: “Clients receive the best possible information, both at the time of engagement and when appropriate as their matter progresses, about the likely overall cost of their matter.” If the amount of the client’s costs are in issue, you will need to inform the client of any change to the information you have previously provided.

The client is not a party to the joint tribunal. However, depending upon the contractual arrangements, the client may be responsible for the fees. On that basis, you may wish to discuss an application to the joint tribunal with your client. For further information, please see the Law Society’s website.

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