Appeal judges recently ruled that probate solicitors could bill according to the value of the estate they are administering, as opposed to their hourly rate. The case, Jemma Trust co v. Liptrott & Others, concerned Bolton law firm Kippax Beaumont Lewis, which was involved in the administration of a £10m estate. The firm had charged £650,000 for its work, based on a combination of hourly rate and a percentage of the value of the estate.
Probate lawyers were shocked at the earlier ruling of Master Rogers in the Supreme Court Costs Office when he said that it was “anachronistic and wrong” to charge an additional value element on top of the hourly rate. The Law Society intervened in the case when it went to the Court of Appeal. According to the society’s research, some 70 per cent of solicitors charge on the basis of time plus an element representing value.
“The Court of Appeal decision provides certainty and clarity for probate lawyers,” commented Janet Paraskeva, Law Society chief executive. “It confirmed that a separate value element might be charged provided the value of the estate was not reflected in the hourly rate.” The society believes that judgment is helpful to solicitors, insofar as it “allows solicitors to use their discretion when charging for administering an estate”. In allowing the solicitor’s appeal, the Appeal judges ruled that probate solicitors could either make a separate charge relating to the value or take its value into account when calculating the hourly rate – but they could not do both. The Appeal judges make clear that the value must not be taken into account twice and the calculation must be absolutely transparent in the bill.