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Abuse Victim "Double Charging"

Many solicitors have taken advantage of abused going through redress board.. Why has law society not struck off those solicitors who double charged clients.. Appears law society like Garda complaints board. Self regulatory. Anne

This question refers to the controversy over the so-called ‘double charging’ by some Solicitors of clients who got compensation at the Redress Board for abused victims.

Like many controversies much of the truth was lost in the subsequent debate in some sections of the print media.

We dealt with the rules regarding payment of legal fees in Court or Tribunal cases last April and basically I said that when you hire a Solicitor in a civil litigation case such as an accident claim or what we are talking about here a Redress Board compensation claim, you hire a solicitor and have a contract with him/her and agree to pay for their time spent on the case. If you win your claim, you are entitled to have your legal costs paid based on a scale of charges calculated on the minimum amount of work done by the victim’s Solicitor to secure the proper compensation for the victim. This I called "Court Costs" and these may vary from the actual amount which you must pay your solicitor. This is because the Court Costs scales may be out of date or may not even cover some aspects of your solicitor's work such as getting a barrister's opinion or giving extra consultations to the client for updates etc.  

On the last occasion I compared it to a situation where your employer sent you on a training course and gave you €50.00 per day for travel and lunch expenses – if you decided to spend more than that yourself then the extra must come out of your own pocket.

In Redress Board cases some of the so-called  “double charging” came about by the client asking his or her Solicitor to provide extra services in relation to the case that would not be covered by the scales of costs laid down by law and therefore that aspect of the fee had to be paid for by the client themselves.

A number of clients made complaints about their Solicitors to the Law Society and on examination of the complaints  - in one particular case I know that the client who was living in England and could not come over to Ireland to instruct their Solicitor asked the Solicitor to travel to England to advise them and sign them up for the Redress Board.  The Solicitor agreed to this but warned the client that the Redress Board would not pay for the cost involved in the trip to England.   The client agreed to pay this amount out of their settlement over and above the legal costs that would be awarded by the Redress Board.   The Solicitor travelled to England at minimum cost  (I think the total was €750 expenses for flight, hotel etc) and in fact did not charge a fee for the visit.    The client agreed in writing to allow the deduction of those expenses.    The Redress Board did not award those expenses and therefore the money had to be deducted from the settlement.   This is not ‘double charging’  it is charging for expenses that are not covered but in that particular case the Solicitor was complained to the Law Society who passed it on to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal who found in favour of the Solicitor and said that that the deduction was in order.

There was another case in which after the victim was awarded their compensation (but because it takes a few weeks for the cheque to come through from the Government that) they wanted to get a Bank loan of €5,000 to buy a car.    The Solicitor gave his own personal guarantee to the Bank on the instructions of his client that the amount would be paid out of the settlement to repay the Bank.    When the settlement came in the Solicitor repaid the client’s loan to the Bank and this clearly was not a “double charge” – (in fact the Solicitor did not charge any fee for the personal guarantee to the Bank that he gave).

These are examples of Solicitors helping their clients  - not taking advantage of them. And of course there were examples of solicitors guilty of double charging but the majority (approximately 75% of the 182 or so solicitors complained of) were not found to have done anything wrong. 

When a person makes a complaint to the Law Society about a Solicitor the Law Society is obliged to allow the solicitor resolve the dispute with the client.    Unfortunately in Redress Board cases the Law Society took a decision not to allow this but instead referred all such cases on to the Solicitors Disciplinary tribunal.

One firm of Solicitors in Cork took the Law Society to the High Court over this decision that they made and in a judgement of Mr. Justice McKechnie (O'Driscoll and Roberts v The Law Society of Ireland), the Judge was trenchantly critical of the Law Society’s failure to carry out their statutory duty to allow the opportunity to resolve the issues.   He was particularly critical of one member of a Committee of the Law Society who spoke to the media in a very prejudicial way and I know that there are a number of civil law suits by Solicitors against the Law Society arising out of this. One member of the Law Society admitted to me that they really did drop the ball in relation to this and from talking to Solicitors and victims alike nobody liked the way the Law Society dealt with the controversy. The Law Society have been ordered by the High Court in all future cases to do their statutory duty and allow the client and the solicitor to resolve any disputes that arise between them.

The general feeling in the legal professional is that the Law Society didn’t properly represent its duty to consumers and as a result of the McKechnie judgment behaved illegally to both consumers and solicitors in at least half of the complaints made.

 

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