Yes, yes, I know that the new culture in construction is to be pals. And yes, I know that that means disputes have disappeared and that must mean you don't need barristers, solicitors, consultants or experts. But if you really believe all that tommy-rot, you have as much chance of surviving in the construction game as finding a quantity surveyor with a dim book and a five-foot folding-rod in heaven.
Disputomania, litigation and arbitration are alive and well and firing on all cylinders.
I drive by building projects, I fly over tower cranes, I shop in supermarkets and I giggle, honest I do. I giggle because, in a minute, that site, that building, that railroad track, that tunnel will deliver up another donation to help Mrs Bingham buy her poor hubby a few smalls from Marks & Spencer.
And, talking of lawyers' hard-earned income, how do you fancy a discount? Stop, did you hear that noise? It was the sound of 5000 barristers turning in their graves. Not only am I talking money, but I am talking discounts on counsel's fees. What's more, I like what Dominic Helps took us to last week. He introduced us to a brand-new system for dealing with lawyers' fees so that those bills don't skin you alive.
Have a look in your existing disputes cupboard. Now look at the letter you hold from your solicitor warning you about costs.
Do you wake in the night and catch a glimpse of the grim reaper asking you to fork out the other side’s costs as well?
And did the solicitor warn you that if you lose, you will more than likely be bashed, not only for his fees but for the fees of the other side? And, has your solicitor told you about the good side and the bad side of your case? And has he warned you that there is no such thing as a piece of litigation that is a dead cert? And from time to time, do you wake up in the middle of the night having lost confidence in your case and catch a glimpse of the grim reaper asking you to fork out the other side's costs as well? Stop worrying. Buy your way into a good night's sleep. Buy a tonic called CAP-IT-ALL. It is a brand new insurance policy that will give you £500 000 to save your pocket if you lose your case. And you buy it only when you need it. CAP-IT-ALL doesn't want to know until you land in litigation.
How does this thing work? Put briefly, it requires three key people and three key steps. First, you explain your case to a lawyer approved by Abbey Legal Protection, the people who run CAP-IT-ALL. If the lawyer says the prospects are good, the first stage is in place. Then you negotiate a conditional fee agreement with the lawyer (which I will explain in a moment). That's the second stage. Then you fork out the first premium to get peace of mind about losing. That's the third stage. And if you happen, against the odds, to lose the case, then CAP-IT-ALL pays all the opponent's costs ordered by the court and pays back to you all the fees forked out to your own solicitor, barrister and experts.
What CAP-IT-ALL wants to know is: first, have you got a good claim; second, will your solicitor and barrister agree reduced rates; and third, can you pay their premium? You will want to know how much the premium is for £500 000 cover. It's £13 000 for the first £60 000, a further £16 875 for the £150 000 level, £28 125 more to get to £300 000, and a final £37 500 for £500 000. And then you will ask about paying the lawyers' fees. You might negotiate to pay, say, half the normal hourly rate. You pay monthly on the nail. If you lose, you get all that back. If you win, you pay the other half of the hourly rate plus the same amount again as an uplift. This is a variety of no win-no fee. But the opponent is obliged to pay your costs.
And are any lawyers of these parts interested in CAP-IT-ALL with conditional fees? Well, yes. Nick Carnell of SJ Berwin is fully supporting CAP-IT-ALL, as is construction expert GVA Grimley.
Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator specialising in construction.