Hourly Rates – How far can you depart from the Guideline Hourly Rates?

The case of Sir Philip Green & Ors v Telegraph Media Group Limited [2019] EWHC 96 (QB)

Background

This matter revolved around the Claimant and two companies seeking an injunction against the Defendant to restrain them from publishing information about the Claimant. The information related to the alleged misconduct of the Claimants which had been subject to non-disclosure agreements.

A number of pre-trial applications were addressed by Warby J, including the issue of costs budgeting . Given the time-sensitive nature of proceedings, the issue of costs budgeting could only be addressed two weeks before trial.

The hourly rates claimed by the Claimant’s City of London-based solicitors ranged from £190 (for a Grade D trainee) to £690 (for a Grade A lawyer – a Partner). Other Partners’ rates claimed by the Claimants were between £510 and £635 per hour. Warby J noted that all these figures were well in excess of the guideline rates, which are £126 for Grade D and £409 for Grade A (emphasis added).

Warby J recognised that, due to the late stage of costs budgeting, the majority of costs were incurred, and as such he was restricted from budgeting incurred costs due to CPR PD 3E 7.4, and was limited to only making comments.

Warby J said he did not consider that hourly rates of more than £550 could be justified, and proportionate reductions should also be made to the lower Partners’ rates.

The Judge added: ‘Of course, fees in excess of the guidelines can be and often are allowed, and in this case the defendants (who themselves claim up to £450 per hour) and I both accept that fees above those rates are justified. But not to the extent of the differences here.’

Comment

The outcome of this hearing raises two interesting topics for discussion: the level of hourly rates in general, and, the approach the Court can take in respect of hourly rates in costs management.

Hourly rates in general

As a starting point, and as referenced by Warby J indirectly, it is well accepted that Guideline Hourly Rates are just that, a guideline. They are suitable for carrying out a summary assessment and can be a starting position for detailed assessment. Following this , the Court will take into account both CPR 44.3(5), and the 8 ‘pillars of wisdom’ contained within CPR 44.4(3), when considering whether costs are proportionate and reasonable in amount (when assessing on the standard basis). These factors can be used to support an enhancement, for instance, given the complexity of the matter, or the conduct of parties.

The Court has recently commented further on a case which claimed very high hourly rates, far in excess of the Guideline Hourly Rates. In the matter of Dana Gas PJSC v Dana Gas Sukuk Ltd & Ors [2018] EWHC 332 (Comm), the Court found that hourly rates in excess of £900 were unreasonable, even in a matter which was factually/legally complex, had an international element and was of significant value. The Court considered that hourly rates of half that amount (hence being very similar to the rates referred to as reasonable by Warby J in the case of Sir Philip Green & Ors v Telegraph Media Group Limited [2019] EWHC 96 (QB)), were considered more reasonable to obtain competent representation in such a case.

There is technically no limit on the hourly rates which can be charged by a firm of solicitors, so long as the client agrees to pay them, but the Court is now taking a much tougher stance in respect of how much of that hourly rate can be recovered inter partes. This leaves the firm in an unenviable position: either write off those costs claimed, or, bill the client for the shortfall.

Perhaps this was a factor in Sir Philip deciding to abandon the claim?

Budgeting

It is well established that the Court must walk a tightrope when addressing hourly rates while setting a budget. The Court can have regard to the constituent elements of the budget, including hourly rates (CPR PD 3E 7.3), but the Court must not over step the mark and proceed to fix or approve hourly rates (CPR PD 3E 7.10). Warby J’s comments appear to strike the right balance between the two. Unfortunately, shortly after the hearing, the Claimants abandoned the claim, and we will therefore not see at detailed assessment stage how much weight is given to comments made at costs management stage.

The interplay between hourly rates, costs budgeting and detailed assessment is an interesting one, and a topic which will, no doubt, continue to develop as more and more budgeted cases proceed to detailed assessment.


This blog was prepared by Kris Kilsby who is an Associate Costs Lawyer at Clarion and part of the Costs Litigation Funding Team. Kris can be contacted at kris.kilsby@clarionsolicitors.com or on 0113 227 3628.

 

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Proportionality – a flurry of cases

Proportionality is a hot topic in the legal costs world at the moment and in the last 4 months there has been a flurry of cases from the Senior Courts Costs Office and the High Court. The cases are as follows:

Marcura & DA-Desk FZ-LLC -v- Nisomar Ventures Limited & Claus Hyldager.

Various Claimants -v- MGN Ltd [2018]

Arjomandkhah -v- Nasrouallahi [2018]

Powell & others -v- The Chief Constable of West Midlands Police [2018]

The outcomes in each of these cases are of course case specific. Every case is different, and therefore in practice, this is what makes the application of the new test of proportionality difficult to predict.

It is now fundamentally important for all litigators and costs lawyers to have a sound knowledge of CPR 44.3 (5):

Costs incurred are proportionate if they bear a reasonable relationship to –

(a) the sums in issue in the proceedings;

(b) the value of any non-monetary relief in issue in the proceedings;

(c) the complexity of the litigation;

(d) any additional work generated by the conduct of the paying party; and

(e) any wider factors involved in the proceedings, such as reputation or public importance.

Lawyers should be able to link case facts/details to the above factors and articulate those facts to a Judge at a CCMC, summary assessment or to a Costs Judge on detailed assessment (or provisional assessment).

A really important point is that value shouldn’t be given superior status, as shown in the cases of Various Claimants -v- MGN Ltd [2018] and Marcura & DA-Desk FZ-LLC -v- Nisomar Ventures Limited & Claus Hyldager (costs can be higher than damages). However, in practice, Judge’s are often tactically led by Defendants to place a greater weight on value. It is therefore important for Claimants to be alive to this and ensure the Judge gives equal consideration to each factor in CPR 44.5 (3) and to encourage the Judge to adopt a ‘holistic’ approach (May & May -v- Wavell Group & Dr Bizzari [2018]) when applying the new test of proportionality.

The ’May’ case is the only case to date to give some real judicial guidance in relation to the test and how it should be applied. The decision in that case was appealed, but last week permission to appeal was refused by the Court of Appeal. Many legal experts expected the ‘May’ Appeal to provide the Court of Appeal with the chance to issue some clarity and guidance on the test – they will now have to wait a bit longer.

The area of proportionality is starting to develop and we will see many more decisions in 2018, with some appearing harsh and some lenient. The application of the test involves a large degree of judicial discretion and therefore practitioners should not expect a great deal of consistency. If certainty is what practitioners want then fixed costs is the remedy, which is of course not an attractive alternative!

This blog was prepared by Andrew McAulay who is a Partner at Clarion and the Head of the Costs and Litigation Funding team. He can be contacted on 0113 336 3334 or at andrew.mcaulay@clarionsolicitors.com