Court upholds BLP’s claim for full fees despite error

Berwin Leighton Paisner

(BLP) has claimed the moral victory, but still emerged with egg on its face after a spat with a former client ended up in the Court of Appeal.

Last week (17 October), the court ruled that despite an error in a letter from BLP to its client Yvonne Sherrington asking for fees of £35,000, the firm was still entitled to demand £45,000 in ongoing discussions over outstanding fees.

The spat related to BLP’s representation of Sherrington, widow of solicitor Richard, as she fought for the right to probate over his multimillion-pound fortune.

Sherrington ditched BLP after losing the 2004 High Court case, instructing Bloomsbury firm Goldkorn Mathias Gentle instead. However, there was disagreement over the fees payable to BLP and the counsel instructed.

BLP offered to write off unbilled time in respect of the action over Richard Sherrington’s will and said it would accept £45,000 in fees. Goldkorn was to be responsible for paying counsel.

However, on 10 March 2005, after the parties had failed to reach an agreement, BLP partner Andrew Rose wrote to Goldkorn again, saying: “For the avoidance of doubt, I should perhaps add that at present our offer to accept the sum of £35,000 remains open.”

Goldkorn and Sherrington promptly accepted the offer and sent a cheque for £35,000. But Rose refused to accept the cheque, claiming that the £35,000 quoted in the March letter was a typographical error and BLP was still pushing for £45,000.

In February 2006 a circuit judge ruled that there had not been a binding agreement over the amount to be paid and gave permission for Sherrington to appeal on the law of contract.

In the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Lloyd said that the original offer and the 10 March letter had to be taken together, meaning that Sherrington should have considered the £45,000 offer and there was no contract over the lesser sum.

Rose said: “I think these proceedings were unfortunate, but the court has decided in favour of our position and we would hope to resolve matters.”

BLP instructed 4 Pump Court’s James Leabeater. Goldkorn instructed 7 New Square’s John Fitzgerald for Sherrington.

A spokesperson for Goldkorn said: “Mrs Sherrington continues to challenge the fees charged by her former solicitors.”.