Tuesday, November 11, 2008

No Satisfaction

Back in July I mentioned the worrying case of Carol Williams, who was suing her lawyers for negligence for failing to advise her about the impending case of White v White, the decision in which could have led to her receiving a larger settlement. She claimed that in the light of this, her lawyers should have advised her not to settle, just three months before White was decided. It gives me little satisfaction to find that she has lost her case, as reported by the Telegraph yesterday. Mr Justice Field found her to be "a profoundly unreliable witness," whose "evidence was self-serving, evasive and, on occasion, knowingly untruthful". It seems that, far from being led by her lawyers, she was anxious to settle so that she could start a new life with her new partner. Sadly, and perhaps significantly, she has lost most of her £1.4 million settlement, due to ill-advised investments and legal costs.

The Telegraph report concludes with a quote from Carol Hill, a legal executive at Matthew Arnold & Baldwin, who said: "This is a cautionary tale for would-be dissatisfied parties. Don't necessarily assume that even if your solicitor hasn't told you everything that you are automatically going to be dashing back to court to get more money because it isn't going to be the case." How very true. I suspect that most family lawyers have come across this situation - there are so many things that could be relevant to our clients' cases that it would be unreasonable to expect us to advise of every possibility. Yes, sometimes we make mistakes and miss things that definitely were relevant, but that does not necessarily mean that that client has suffered loss for which we should be liable.

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UPDATE: When I posted this this morning, I checked to see whether it had been reported on Bailli, but couldn't find it. Well, now it has been reported, as Williams v Thompson Leatherdale (a firm) & Anor [2008] EWHC 2574 (QB) (thanks, Current Awareness). I've not yet had a chance to read the judgment in full, but I note that Mr Justice Field concludes with the following: "As against Mr Francis [Nicholas Francis QC, her counsel], Mrs Williams has failed to prove that if she had been advised as she says she ought to have been by Mr Francis, she would have postponed any settlement negotiations until after the White decision. As against TL [Thompson Leatherdale, her solicitors], Mrs Williams has failed to show that the firm was negligent, and also failed to show that she would have repudiated the settlement agreement if TL had acted as she alleges they should have acted."

6 comments:

  1. *sigh*. Why do the words 'Greedy' and 'Grasping' spring to mind in this scenario?!

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  2. Yes, although I do have some sympathy for her - it appears she was afraid to seek more from her husband, and that she was badly advised on her investments.

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  3. Granted if she had a bolshie or abusive hubby I could understand her fear, but she should have gone down fighting at the first opportunity and not blame all around her for what they did and didnt tell her. Same thing with her investments- did not the buck ultimately stop with her in that respect?

    Oooo, I am SUCH a ratbag, sometimes; I will never have the patience tact and diplomacy of the family lawyer, thats a cert!!

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  4. :-) 'Patience tact and diplomacy' - yes, they do come in handy.

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  5. John - when I noticed the heading of this post I thought maybe you'd been blogging about toasters too (See mine today called Satisfaction Guaranteed)! Incidentally I don't think many ancillary relief lawyers would have forecast the outcome of White v White - didn't the House of Lords tell us and the lower courts we'd been getting it wrong for decades?

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  6. There's a coincidence! Enjoyed your post.

    It's difficult now to recall the run-up to White, although I do remember we were all eagerly awaiting the decision. However, I've now read more of this judgment, and note that the judge did find counsel negligent for failing to advise Mrs Williams on the potential implications of White.

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