I was puzzled by Alan Danieli’s article and the pessimistic conclusion that his company would be unable to sustain the likely legal costs required to recover the sums due to it.
One is tempted to conclude that Mr Danieli may be shopping in the wrong street.
There are any number of lawyers (some specialising in construction-related matters) who regularly and successfully conduct matters on a conditional fee agreement basis. In essence that means “no hay, no pay”. There are also countless claims consultants who work on a contingency basis. The former system is far from perfect: in particular, “after the event” insurers find it difficult to respond to the needs of the construction industry with an economically viable product. Nevertheless, the position is far from hopeless for the builder facing a domestic client who refuses to pay, providing that the builder is prepared to take the risk of an adverse costs order. His comfort in respect of that risk is that it is one that he effectively shares, because the solicitor first risks their costs.
The lawyer must be satisfied that the claim is sound, there must be a good trusting relationship between lawyer and builder, and the defendant must be able to satisfy a judgment. If all those ingredients are present, then Mr Danieli’s concerns about £190 plus VAT per hour will become an irrelevance. The civil justice system is slow and relatively unpredictable, but it is not completely unhelpful to someone in his position.
Richard Jones, Richard Jones & Co, solicitors