By: 21 March 2024
Professional negligence solicitor’s guidance for SSB Law victims

Following the shocking collapse of SSB Law in Sheffield, hundreds of innocent former clients have been lumbered with cost orders. Many of these victims have now been left with nowhere to turn 

David Wingate is a professional negligence solicitor looking to obtain justice for those affected. He sat down with Yorkshire Legal News to discuss the fallout and the best next steps forward for those who don’t know where to go for help in the wake of the collapse.  

 

David, could you introduce yourself? 

My name is David Wingate, and I am a solicitor and partner at WE Solicitors LLP. I specialise in professional negligence work and am running quite a few cases against SSB on behalf of people who have been landed with cost orders following the collapse of the firm.  

SSB Law was having issues with the creditors funding the practice, and they were pushed into administration late last year.  

 

“I think SSB has done a lot to undermine the trust that people have in solicitors. People should be able to trust solicitors, and something has gone gravely wrong in this instance.”

 

How are victims of SSB coping in the aftermath? 

I’ve got many clients from various backgrounds, each with their own story.  

One client clearly did not have the mental capacity to conduct litigation, meaning that he was mentally incapable of dealing with the case himself. He has a cost order against him of approximately £20,000. He should never have had a case started on his behalf in the first place. 

I’ve had another individual describe to me how one of his relatives  felt suicidal after receiving a cost order. People are just in shock that they are in this situation.  Most of my clients are unable to afford to repay the sums claimed against them and it’s causing significant distress and anxiety.

I think SSB has done a lot to undermine the trust that people have in solicitors. People should be able to trust solicitors, and something has gone gravely wrong in this instance.  Indeed, one of the core rules is that a solicitor should act in a way that upholds public trust and confidence in the solicitors’ profession and in legal services provided by authorised persons”. 

On a personal level, I find the distress caused highly troubling  and I am determined to make sure that the victims of SSB are helped.   

 

What kind of feedback have you heard from SSB Law victims so far? 

I know that a lot of people have gone to MPs and support groups. I think that is due to a loss of trust in solicitors and ‘no win, no fee’ agreements. 

From what I have seen, a victim of SSB has got two choices: either pay the costs order or go after SSB. There are other choices, but they’re not particularly good ones.  

In my mind, one of the biggest hurdles that must be overcome is how the legal action against SSB Law is going to be funded. Offering a client a ‘no win, no fee’ raises eyebrows.  People understandably question why they are being asked to get involved in the same agreement that’s caused them to be in the situation they find themselves.

 

“I would like to see changes to the law so that the costs of insurance are recoverable.  The system now puts too much cost on the victim and justice cannot be achieved.”

 

How are clients responding to your offer of a ‘no win, no fee’? 

With the way that ‘no win no fee’ agreements are set up, it’s sensible to take out a legal expenses insurance policy to cover yourself, although it is not compulsory.  

If the solicitor loses the case, their costs are written off. But that will not protect you against disbursements, which are charges outside of a solicitor’s time, such as court fees or expert fees. Disbursements can run you into quite a lot of money.  

No win no fee also doesn’t cover you for the defendant’s costs. Thus, it is highly advisable to put legal expenses insurance in place which, typically, you only pay for if the case is won.  

The cost of the insurance used to be recoverable from the defendant. That changed a few years ago and it now comes from any compensation won.  So, for example, if an SSB victim has a £10,000 cost order and they instruct a firm to recover that sum from SSB, then the solicitor might offer a no win no fee arrangement but will advise getting legal expenses insurance. If the insurance costs £1,000, that amount will be deducted from any winnings. So, even if the solicitor wins £10,000 for this client, they will only receive £9,000 after paying for the insurance. Thus, there will be a shortfall of £1,000 with which to pay the debt owed.  My firm is looking into ensuring that the full winnings will be available to pay off the debt. 

I would like to see changes to the law so that the costs of insurance are recoverable.  The system now puts too much cost on the victim and justice cannot be achieved. 

 

What should the victims of SSB Law be doing? 

They need to instruct a solicitor with experience in professional negligence work. A good resource for finding expert help is the Professional Negligence Lawyers Association.

People need to bear in mind that this issue isn’t going to go away for them. I understand that it’s difficult for them to deal with because it’s causing an enormous amount of stress, but they need to engage with this quickly as they can reduce the amount of money owed overall.  

There is likely to be interest accruing on the cost orders at the rate of 8% per annum.  

Lawyers with professional negligence experience can help them and I am confident that there will be a good outcome for those who have been affected.  

 

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Emma Cockings
Emma is the content editor for Yorkshire Legal News. Emma is an experienced writer with a background in client-centric personal injury law for a major firm. She has attended and reported on numerous high-profile legal events in Yorkshire.