Barristers are expecting a rise in cases against solicitors who have not paid fees to counsel after Lincoln’s Inn set Enterprise Chambers successfully sued West End firm Sibley & Co for fees owed.
Historically clerks agreed verbal contracts between litigators and barristers upon accepting instructions. But in 2001 the Bar Council introduced new rules stipulating that written contracts must be signed when a retainer is accepted.
The Enterprise case tested the enforceability of the regulations.
Acting for Enterprise, Wedlake Saint solicitor Christopher Waters instructed Wilberforce Chambers’ David Phillips QC. The action concerned fees totalling several hundred thousand pounds.
An original contract was agreed between the firm and set, but after several disagreements over fees the chambers threatened to terminate the contract unless it was paid. When the firm paid up a few days later the three barristers working on the case agreed to take up the case again, but the chambers did not issue a renewed contract.
Crown Office Chambers’ Dermot Woolgar argued that, because the original contract was void and no new terms were issued, the firm was not liable for the fees.
Mr Justice Burnett rejected this, ruling that a contract had been agreed.