This chapter deals with the various ways in which lawyers are remunerated by their clients. It does not, however, deal with the recovery of legal costs from opposing parties in litigation, which is beyond the scope of this book.
In general terms, a lawyer’s entitlement to fees is a contractual entitlement arising from the obligations of his client under the terms of the relevant retainer.
However, the situation is rather more complex in the case of solicitors. A solicitor’s entitlement to a fee is based upon a contract with his client but (with one exception) his ability to sue for that fee requires the rendering of a formal bill. Other than in relation to contentious and non-contentious business agreements, a solicitor’s ability to sue comes from the formal or ‘statute’ bill he renders. A client’s primary right to challenge what is due is by way of assessment of the bill, rather than a broader direct consideration of what is due under a contract.
This means that a solicitor’s bill is not the same as a commercial invoice for a sum due under a contract; it has a much greater formal significance. It is the bill which is the focus of any dispute or challenge. Once a formal bill is rendered, it may not simply be withdrawn or changed at the solicitor’s discretion. The statutory control of solicitors’ charging has as its foundation the regulation of the solicitor’s bill.