Contingency fees in employment – Law Society wades in…

…with both a practice note for firms undertaking what are now called “Damages Based Agreements”, and a call to the (by now old) government to repeal the regulations governing their use.

By way of reminder, the charging of a contingency fee – where the amount charged by the representative is a percentage of the compensation recovered – had gained great popularity in the last few years. Costs are not normally payable by the losing party in the Employment Tribunal, so the DBA model provides one of the few funding options for the impecunious client. There are problems however, and for my discussion of the conflicting pressures on a DBA funded representative, and the background to the government’s decision to regulate them, see my previous post here.

The Damages-Based Agreements Regulations 2010 came into force in April. They provide for the formal requirements of DBAs, the information that must be provided and, importantly, a 35% cap on the percentage charged, including VAT.

As a former solicitor I still receive email notices of new Law Society practice notes – they are usually prosaic in the extreme, and I delete them, but this bulletin contains the following (controversial?) advice:

Tribunal proceedings are non-contentious business under the Solicitors Act 1974 (“the Solicitors Act”) and, so far as solicitors are concerned, a non-contentious business agreement compliant with Section 57(1) of the Solicitors Act could be used for Employment Tribunal matters.

A conditional fee agreement (as opposed to a DBA) would be enforceable and would not be caught by the Regulations. Such an arrangement might enable you to achieve a greater success fee than would be possible under the Regulations, and still avoid your client risking liability to you if the claim fails.

I don’t know if any solicitors have tried this. But the attitude of solicitor-practitioners shines through, and indeed the Law Society have called on the government to repeal the regulations, contending that the 35% cap will withdraw the possibility of representation from some needy claimants.

Read all, here.

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