Susan O'Brien is losing patience with incompetent lawyers

Susan O'Brien

One of the trickiest opponents to deal with is the incompetent solicitor. You rightly expect your opponent to try to make life difficult for you as a means of advancing his client's case.

It is your job to recognise the strategy and deal with it. This is quite different from a failure to get a grip on the issues, to review the case at appropriate moments, or even to step back from the mundane processing of the litigation which regrettably characterises the approach of some practitioners.

So long as this does not disadvantage your client, all is well. Indeed, there can be advantages – you may get more than you expected on discovery, for instance. In the main, however, you will find that, whatever efforts you might make, your client will be disadvantaged.

For example, the case will be disproportionately time-consuming and some of the costs thus incurred will be irrecoverable. You will have great difficulty persuading the other side to attend any meeting and the case is liable to drag on far longer than is strictly necessary.

Even if you have an overwhelming argument, it can be impossible to make your opponent see the writing on the wall until the door of the court. Your client cannot understand why it took you so long.

To overcome this problem, you have to take the initiative with extra vigour; write more often than usual setting out the difficulties in your opponent's case. Frame your letter in such terms that it will have to be shown to the opposing client. Where possible, get your client to contact the other side direct. Do not hesitate to apply to the courts for strict orders.

The trend is towards greater court management of cases; capitalise on this. We have experience of some county courts making ex-parte unless orders (with liberty to apply) on written application. Pray for a change in solicitor.

Susan O'Brien is a partner at Pitmans, Reading.