Write to: The Editor, The Lawyer, 50 Poland Street, London W1V 4AX, Fax 0171-734 0534
The enormous increase in the cost of civil litigation means that most individual clients – and many private companies – are unable to afford to start legal proceedings or are unwilling to risk the financial cost of losing, particularly in the High Court.
The Woolf proposals may bring down the cost of litigation in the future.
In the meantime we have an increasing proportion of both the population at large and the small and medium enterprises section of industry and commerce in particular who cannot afford to go to law. At best they have to gamble on a reasonable offer being made before trial.
It is ironic that it has been the aggressive conduct of litigation by the largest firms of solicitors, particularly in the area of discovery, that has driven up the cost of litigation in the last two decades and that many of these same firms are running the campaign against conditional fees.
It is also ironic that it is the solicitors who act for large insurance companies which express concern that solicitors will run litigation on the principles of insurance by taking on a number of cases in expectation that the majority of successful clients will pay the premiums to cover their losses on those that fail.
My firm has entered into its first batch of conditional fee agreements in personal injury cases. Only time will tell if our risk and file management of those cases will be successful. In nearly all of those cases the clients would not have been able to pursue their claims but for conditional fees.
These cases will be run like any other – I resent the suggestion that conditional fees will "impose conflict on a solicitor who discovers a document potentially fatal to his case".
I hope I will never again have to conduct proceedings knowing we must pull out a month before trial if there is no offer and know the strain and anxiety that causes the client.
I forecast that by the end of the century not only will conditional fees be expanded but we will wonder how we managed for so long without them.
Gold (Anthony) Lerman & Muirhead