Court of Appeal to decide the fate of unqualified assistants

A CLIENT who refused to pay a firm after he discovered an unqualified clerk was handling his case last week took his fight to the Court of Appeal.

If he wins the case, it could have serious ramifications for unqualified assistants in law firms.

Stuart Pilbrow claims that when he contacted East Grinstead firm Pearless de Rougemont & Co in November 1995 and asked to see a solicitor, he was given an appointment with a clerk who had a law degree, but no further legal qualification.

He says that if he had known the clerk had no legal qualification, he would not have employed her. Pilbrow is refusing to pay two bills totalling £1,772.

The Solicitors Practice Rules require “every solicitor in private practice, unless it is inappropriate in the circumstances, to ensure that clients know the name and status of the person responsible for the day to day conduct of the matter, and the principal responsible for its overall supervision.”

William Ross, senior partner at Pearless de Rougemont, says: “There is no clear evidence that Mr Pilbrow asked to see a solicitor.”

The firm says that at the time the clerk in question, who has subsequently qualified as a legal executive, was responsible to the head of litigation and there was clear evidence of supervision by an experienced and specialist member of staff.

A county court ruling in May found in favour of Pearless de Rougemont. Following the appeal court hearing last week, judgment has been reserved until later this month.