The Court issued a stern reminder for law firms that "A CFA is merely a vehicle by which a party obtains legal services for minimal initial financial outlay... it does not change the services or duties that the solicitor owes the client, or vice versa". The decision re-asserts clients' autonomy to instruct solicitors as they wish. Importantly, it also shines a light on the balancing act that must be undertaken by solicitors when accepting work from clients and considering engagement/funding terms in cases with uncertain prospects or potential proportionality issues. It is a reminder that the economic concerns of a law firm must take a back seat to the integrity of the services provided by the law firm as an advisor.
"Egg on their faces": Solicitors cause loss of chance for client
In Deborah Anne Forster v Reynolds Porter Chamberlain LLP  EWHC 1150 (Ch), Mr Justice Fancourt held that Reynolds Porter Chamberlain LLP (RPC) became "hopelessly conflicted".
Whilst pursuing recovery of a higher proportion of fees under a Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA), RPC:
i. recommended that Ms Forster enter into a loan agreement which detrimentally affected the distribution of any award/settlement achieved without advising her of such consequences; and
ii. continued to act for her whilst both holding an economic interest in the lender entity and advising the controlling individual in the lender entity.
The Court found that RPC had preferred its own interests and acted "in concert"' with the lender to delay enforcement, resulting in Ms Forster's loss of chance to recover up to £350,000 of an agreed settlement. The Court was particularly critical of the irremediable loss of trust between client and solicitor, and the significant personal distress suffered by her as a result of RPC's conduct.
Addleshaw Goddard LLP specialises in advising on and conducting professional negligence claims against solicitors and other professional advisers. If you have a query that you would like to discuss, please get in touch with one of our specialists.
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