Hourly Rates, exceptions to the rule and maximising recovery. Is the latter easier said than done?
When assessing Court of Protection Bills the general rule of thumb is to apply the SCCO Guideline Hourly Rates which are set out below.
|Grade of Fee Earner||Description||L1||L2||L3||N1|
|A||Solicitors, over 8 years qualified experience||£409||£317||£267||£217|
|B||Solicitors or Legal Executives, over 4 years qualified experience||£296||£242||£229||£192|
|C||Other qualified Solicitors or Legal Executives and fee earners of similar experience||£226||£196||£165||£161|
|D||Trainee Solicitors, Paralegals or equivalent||£138||£126||£121||£118|
In my experience Costs Officers are reluctant to allow for an increased rate, however there are some circumstances which could warrant the same. In order for a chance of being allowed a higher rate it would have to be shown that the circumstances were exceptional. An example of such would be a case that has been highly contested, with limited involvement of Counsel or whereby the fee earner has dealt with a high value, multi-million pound estate. Both of these scenarios would have required a high level of skill and expertise from an experienced fee earner. This was established in the case of Smith & Others (2007);
“An hourly rate in excess of the guideline figures may be appropriate for Grade A fee earners in complex litigation… including the value of the litigation, the level of complexity the urgency or importance of the matter… would justify a significantly higher rate…”
Court of Protection work generally covers various aspects of work on all different levels of the spectrum, however in order to maximise recovery it could be suggested that the tasks undertaken be charged at an appropriate rate for that particular task. For example, if you are a Grade C/B fee earner and you are preparing non-routine correspondence, it could be recommended that the task be charged at a Grade D rate in order to be proportionate to the task in hand and allow for a lesser reduction. In my experience, I have noticed that this approach is being adopted by some firms of Solicitors. I believe that this reasonable approach would help to recover more of your costs as the Costs Officer would be less likely to reduce the time as it would have been already been reduced at the outset, leading to a lesser distortion of fees.
In my opinion, Costs Officers often reduce Grade A time the most and it is often where the Costs Office has felt that the task could have been undertaken by a lower grade fee earner, apart from where a Grade A has dealt with a difficult Protected Party or family member/s, investments and building projects. It could be argued that the reason for the reduction, is that the more straight forward tasks could be delegated or charged at a lesser rate. There does seem to have been an increase in the use of blended rates since the precedent set out in the case of Yazid Yahiaoui (2014);
- Blended Hourly Rates – Master Haworth saw no reason to depart from his judgment stated In the matter of Louise Smith & Others however the application of “blended rates” may be suitable. Master Haworth directed:
“…where work is being carried out either as a team or by an individual that spans work that would normally be dealt with by a Grade B, C or D fee earner, a blended or enhanced rate may be appropriate…”
In light of the above I would advise that you bear in mind the rates that you are charging your client and look for cases where the rate could be increased if necessary to do so or even apply a reasonable blended rate. Also I would suggest that you identify work that could be delegated to a lower grade fee earner and act upon this accordingly.
It can be a challenge to achieve a good recovery, however here at Clarion we are dedicated to the cause. We offer a complete service from advice, bill drafting right through to appeals.