Knowledge Base

This section contains papers and other materials prepared by Steen & Co Employment Solicitors. Shorter articles on current topics are usually in the news section. This area is where we publish longer articles on various employment law topics

A cynical look at other solicitors’ firms’ billing practices in Employment Tribunal matters

We have recently acted on behalf of two claimants in a case against the same previous employer. The matters were joined and one hearing listed for both Claimants. All very usual stuff. What is also not unusual about this case is the way that the solicitors acting on behalf of the large multi-national employer escalated costs at every given opportunity.

How so? Well the cases were joined, so we wrote each letter on behalf of both Claimants and prepared a joint agreed bundle incorporating all the documents. We prepared one chronology for both and one statement of agreed issues. The other side’s solicitors wrote two letters for everything, one relating to each Claimant. They re-did the joint agreed bundle and prepared two separate bundles, one for each Claimant’s case. They re-wrote the chronology preparing one for each Claimant’s case and yes, you guessed it, they re-wrote the statement of issues too and prepared one for each Claimant’s case.

They wrote lengthy and long-winded letters, twice, - one on each Claimant’s case, when a short joint letter or a quick phone call would have had the same outcome. They wrote unnecessary letters to the Tribunal, twice, one on each Claimant’s case and then wrote letters to us twice, one on each Claimant’s case enclosing copies of the letters to the Tribunal. An example of this time wasting occurred when we asked the Tribunal to postpone the hearing because one of our Clients was on holiday. The other side’s solicitors wrote a long letter to the Tribunal supporting our application and providing reasons why ‘it was in the interests of justice’ that the hearing should be postponed. Of course, it was going to be postponed; the Claimant was out of the country! Our experience is that when the other side make an application that is reasonable it is going to be accepted. There is absolutely no need whatsoever to write to the Tribunal to support that application. If you want you could send a quick email to the Tribunal saying ‘we agree’ or better still wait for the Tribunal staff to ring to ask ‘do you object?’ The only reason we can see for that letter was to increase the firm’s costs. It certainly wasn’t in their Client’s interests.

Was the purpose of all this work to advance the single joint case? No, as these actions did not advance the case in any way. Did their actions benefit the employer’s case in any way? No. So the only reason can have been to bill their Client as much as was possible. The sad thing is that this is a very common tale. Some solicitors firms are so intent on meeting targets and as such have a “bill bill bill” mentality that they rather miss the point. A happy client who has had value for money will come back and refer you to other clients. An unhappy client who feels they have been overcharged will not only, not give you their next piece of work, but they will tell 8 or so other people about the bad service they received.

At Steen & Co Employment Solicitors we are committed to giving our Clients the best service we can with added value for money. If it can be said in a one-page letter then we shall say it in a one-page letter, not in a seven-page letter, twice! We appreciate that employment advice is something you need to have often rather than want to have and as such paying the earth for the advice just adds insult to injury. We don’t cut corners and we represent our Clients extremely professionally! The result is that our Clients come back to us time after time for advice and assistance and over 80% of our work is through referrals. We do get the point!

While we are on our soapbox here is another example:

In 2003 we were asked to take over a pregnancy dismissal case for a telecoms company. That firm’s existing lawyers claimed to be employment solicitors. The existing lawyers had told the client it would charge £300 per hour but actually charged £350. We saw all the correspondence and file notes that that firm had sent our Client. They disclosed no knowledge of employment law whatsoever. Having instructed a barrister to do the defence to the claim the existing firm seemed not to have done anything constructive on the case. They had certainly not drafted witness statements or dealt with the documents. However, notwithstanding this, their first bill was over £10,000 and this didn’t include the barrister’s costs. We dealt with all aspects of the case and settled it for the client for about £4000.