30.11.06

Day 43 (week 9): One third of the damages

Today I watched the Boss stumble into and around a conflict of interest. We were sat in a conference in Chambers with the solicitor and client. The client was claiming around half a million pounds following a lifting accident at work. The client asked the Boss how much he would get in his pocket if the case settled for half a million. There was an awkward pause by the Boss as he exchanged glances with the solicitor. The solicitor then piped up with the following:
“Well, as you know, we have a contingency agreement that we will be paid one third of your damages so you will get to keep two thirds which would be just over three hundred and thirty thousand pounds.”

I almost jumped out of my seat. Even pupils know that taking a share of the damages are illegal in cases such as this. Furthermore, the solicitor would be getting his usual costs paid by the other side as well. A fast one was well and truly being pulled and I wondered whether this was because the solicitor assumed that this client was unlikely to understand this due to his lack of formal education. Even the Boss looked a little uneasy and simply commented that any costs arrangements were between the client and his solicitor and all the Boss could do was to advise as to what the client would get before that point.

At the end of the conference when the client had gone and I was supposedly making coffee for the Boss and his solicitor, I overheard the following conversation:
“You do know that contingency fees are illegal?”
“No.”
“Well they are. I also think that puts me in a difficult position. If the case goes any further, I would be bound to advise the client of this fact. Indeed, many people might say that I perhaps should have advised the client of that today or at the very least to have withdrawn from the case on the basis of a conflict of interest at that stage. So, either you’ll have to change the agreement or I will have to withdraw.”
“OK. Thanks for telling me. I’ll look into it.”

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