No win, no fee - no problem?
In the post-Jackson cost-cutting era, the noise of tightening belts across the legal landscape is positively deafening. It’s hardly surprising, in that case, that firms are looking for ways to tempt more clients and bring more cases, creating a competitive market which brings its own risks.
As the Legal Ombudsman has warned in no uncertain terms, there are consequences to firms prioritising quantity of clients over quality of case – and this is particularly the case for those undertaken with ‘no win, no fee’ arrangements.
These conditional fee arrangements (CFAs) – stalwarts of daytime television, often accompanied by truly chilling shots of an employee tripping over a cardboard box - are doubtless an attractive proposition for clients and firms alike. It tempts individuals into making a claim they might otherwise be loath to pursue, with the promise – not always verifiable – that they will not be left out of pocket.
As the chief legal ombudsman Adam Sampson has warned, firms under pressure to perform in a crowded marketplace risk delivering a poor quality service and leaving clients dissatisfied. He says, “The ‘no win, no fee’ market has become increasingly aggressive, with many law firms competing for cases and sometimes prioritising sourcing a large number of customers over a careful selection process.”
And the Ombudsman has been willing to bare its teeth: firms have been ordered to pay out a total of £1million to dissatisfied clients. If there could be any doubt of the extent to which some clients have suffered after entering a CFA, look no further than the gentleman who, representing himself after his solicitors walked away from the case, found himself presented with a £24,000 legal bill.
This blog has observed before, the distinction between ‘cheapness’ and value for money is one which is too often overlooked. Firms and chambers keen to keep costs low must nonetheless ensure their service offers the very best to their client. Seeking expert litigation support from professional partners such as Legastat will help ensure that cases are managed carefully and thoroughly – to the satisfaction of clients and regulators.
Cutting costs must not mean cutting corners, or the consequences can be truly devastating. The large payouts ordered by the Ombudsman will far outweigh any savings firms might have made by providing a poor service: a perfect example of the idiom that for want of a nail, the kingdom was lost.
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