Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Never-ending Story: getting paid by a reluctant client

It's not yet on the BAILII database, but a two-man Court of Appeal for England and Wales (Lords Justices Longmore and Lewison) handed down its decision yesterday in Forrester Ketley & Co v David Brent.

Although readers of this blog would have been born when these two contestants first locked horns, many would still have been at junior school.  Litigation commenced in 1993, after Brent failed to pay Forrester Ketley's fees and expenses in respect of patent-related work.  The trial judges who heard the dispute were, at various times, Jacob J, Laddie J and Morgan J; the dispute has been been to the Court of Appeal before, in 2001 (here) and twice again in 2005 (here and here).

It seems inconceivable that, 18 years after the commencement of litigation and therefore probably rather longer since work was done and expenses were incurred by the practice, litigation should still be carrying on.

This blogger has often heard practitioners talk of the problems of collecting fees from a client who is determined not to pay them. His impression is that the hassle and cost involved do not generally justify the option of suing.  If a well-established and resourced firm such as Forrester Ketley has to fight so persistently to obtain expenses, what hope is there for sole and small practitioners?

This blog would be interested to receive readers' experiences of dealing with payment issues.


  1. I am a trainee solicitor at a firm in Southampton. We too have had some issues with the non-payment of fees. Generally, it is sensible to operate a “monies on account” policy; this reduces issues of non-payment. If a client does not want to put you in funds before work is carried out, this is a possible indicator that payment of fees will be an issue somewhere down the line. Setting out the likely costs at the earliest opportunity is also paramount.

  2. I've recently employed a plumber, electrician and plasterer. Guess what? None of them required money up front even though they had forked out for materials. This is how things should be. If large fees are to be paid on a client's behalf then fair enough, but not for time spent.

    If a client doesn't pay up for work reasonably (!!!) performed, then sue. Force them into bankruptcy if necessary. Don't do ANY work on their behalf and let their applications lapse. If IPREG don't like that then tough.

  3. Only undertake work your client can afford. If they are over-reaching themselves because they dont like to admit your quote is more than expected, allow time for consideration.
    Being prepared to agree payment terms often helps.
    Dont send pre-printed statements, send polite reminders and phone up.
    An efficient credit-controller is a wonderful thing (one of those soft Scottish accents is good)