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  Avoid weasel words from lawyers on fees

Who should be responsible for your fees?

Who should be responsible for your fees?

A recent call to the UK Register of Expert Witnesses Helpline ended up with Debt Collection for Expert Witnesses pursuing the debt so the expert could get his money. The crux of that matter came down to the words the solicitor used in respect of the expert’s fee – ‘our client will be responsible for your reasonable fees’. These are weasel words!

No expert should accept this offer on face value because there is no way of knowing that the client either has funds to settle the account or, more importantly, has agreed to do so.

Just consider the following:

  • In what capacity does the solicitor make the claim?
  • In making that claim, is the solicitor purportedly acting as an agent of the client? And, if so, on what terms?

For the client to be liable, there must be privity of contract between client and expert – experts often don’t even know where the client lives!

  • Does any documentary evidence exist to prove that the client knows anything of what is being said?
  • If so, is what has been agreed about any limits on the amount or the time scale for payment known to the client?

We could go on, but you probably get the point!

It is in an expert’s own interest to find out at the start of any instruction who is to pay the bills. There should be no ambiguity here if the expert wishes to avoid unseemly arguments later on. The best outcome is for the instructing solicitor simply to say that his or her firm is responsible for the fees. If the solicitor is a sole practitioner and signs the acceptance of terms in person, the words ‘I will be responsible’ are acceptable, but not otherwise.

If the solicitor wishes to pass on responsibility for your fees, it is up to you to find out who is to be responsible... and to ensure that person knows of the liability and has the means to pay. Finally, no expert should agree to be paid by the solicitor’s client unless a contract almost identical to the one entered into between the expert and the solicitor has been signed by the client, and the expert has ensured appropriate due diligence has been undertaken.

Coming Soon!
Expert Witness Fees, edition 3
First published 2008, updated 2011 and 2015
Over 300 pages of discussion on expert fees, from terms of engagement and court procedure rules, to public funding and cancellation fees; includes prior authority, MedCo, contingent fees and small claims, as well as summoned witnesses, charging interest and fee rates. Covers proceedings in the civil, family and criminal courts in England and Wales.
Pre-publication orders being taken now at £20 + p&p each (RRP £35) - call 01638 561590 to book your copy.

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Issue 91
October 2015

Avoid weasel words from lawyers on fees
MedCo Madness II
Cross-examining experts


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September 2017

New rules when suing individuals for fees
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