Judge: Walker J.
Citation:  EWHC 2881 (QB)
SOC Termination of Retainer.
A client instructed a firm of solicitors to act on behalf of himself and others. Four months before the date of trial he was informed that the firm was closing down. The client then received a letter from another firm of solicitors, informing him that the file had been transferred to them and that a former employee of the original firm had commenced employment with them, so the continuity of his file would be unaffected. During the currency of the original retainer, the firm had received payments on account for charges and expenses.
More than three years after the closure of the practice, the firm made a claim for amounts over and above those which had already been paid on account. At first instance the Costs Judge found that the defendant was entitled to terminate the retainer as a result of the closure of the solicitors practice. On appeal the Court held that a solicitor’s retainer to conduct litigation is known as an “entire contract”, but is better described as involving an “entire obligation”. The “entire obligation” is a condition precedent which must be satisfied before remuneration can be claimed. A solicitor can generally only claim remuneration when all work has been completed or when there is a natural break. The Court held that the Master, in the absence of relevant evidence, was not entitled to make the assumptions which he did. The course which the firm took of giving the client no notice at all could not be described as dealing with the termination in an orderly manner. Accordingly, the firm was not entitled to terminate the retainer and could not claim the fees which it sought in the proceedings before the Master.