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.

 

Advertisements

The new statement of costs goes live on 1 April 2019

I have further updates regarding the new statement of costs following on from our January newsletter. The pilot scheme will operate from 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2021 and will apply to all claims in which costs are to be summarily assessed, whenever they were commenced. There will be two statements of costs which may be used whilst the scheme is in force; the N260A when the costs have been incurred up to an interim application and the N260B when the costs have been incurred up to trial. The N260 will be available in paper/pdf form and in electronic form. Parties are able to use the paper/pdf form only, however if they use the electronic spreadsheet form this must be filed and served in paper form and electronic means. The format has changed and the document schedule now requires the time entries to be dated. 

In cases which have been subject to a costs management order, any party filing the form N260B must also file and serve the precedent Q (which is a summary that details any overspend/underspend for each phase of the budget). Now that the court can identify overspends in the budget, will this additional layer of information result in more costs being summarily assessed and less detailed assessments? Will this assist with applications for payments on account? Will we see the N260B being used at trials that are listed for more than one day, to demonstrate that there hasn’t been any overspend in the budget and resultantly the budgeted costs being allowed in full? Possibly, but only if the incurred costs are identified separately to the estimated costs, please see my earlier blog for a more detailed analysis in that regard.

Sue Fox is a Senior Associate and the Head of Costs Management in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact her at sue.fox@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3389, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.

 

A new year, a new statement of costs. But why stop at that? A few intended changes to Costs Management too

The CPR committee have been hard at work again coming up with solutions to the problems that have been encountered by the legal profession since the Jackson reforms nearly 6 years ago.  Following the scratching of many heads, a few of those creases have been ironed out and the following proposals have been made:

Statements of costs

A voluntary 2 year pilot scheme for the new statement of costs will be implemented, starting from 1 April 2019.

The current proposals are for two new forms of costs statements, namely N260A and N260B which may be used for summary assessment. These new forms will  include a VAT declaration and the forms will now include the signature of a legal representative, which is in line with the rules, as opposed to a company partner. The Form N260A will cross refer to the document schedule in the summary. No model forms are available yet.

Master Howarth has suggested that the precedent Q, the document that identifies whether there has been an under or overspend in a phase of a budget, is incorporated into the statement of costs. This will create transparency at the summary assessment stage regarding the amount incurred in comparison to the approved budget – supporting the need for a well drafted budget.

The committee is to give consideration to lower value cases and the relevance of statements of costs for those cases where there will never be a summary assessment, as there was concern regarding the wasted costs incurred in those instances.

Costs management

The precedent H costs budget will remain the same, but there will be some adjustments to the guidance notes to align costs budgeting with the new electronic bill approach.

There has been many a debate regarding what date the incurred costs should be included up to in the budget and there is tension in the wording of the rules in that regard. The committee have recognised this and have debated the very same problem. They have understood that differing practices appear to be in place and that overall there is value in a consistent approach. It has been advised that this issue should be resolved as part of a future review of the practice direction.

There will be some adjustments to the precedent R, however that is the only guidance that has been provided at this stage, so the amendments remain unknown for the time being.

Sue Fox is a Senior Associate and the Head of Costs Management in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact her at sue.fox@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3389, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.

 

Court of Protection denies Official Solicitor the recovery of costs

“In 2017, the NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group launched what were intended to be four test cases seeking clarification of the law concerning the deprivation of liberty of mentally incapacitated adults. For various reasons, however, all of those applications, or in some cases that part of the application relating to the deprivation of liberty issue, were withdrawn, but not before the Official Solicitor had agreed to act for two of the respondents with the benefit of publicly-funded certificates and had incurred some legal costs. Subsequently, the Official Solicitor has applied for all or part of those costs to be paid by the applicant.” [2018] EWCOP 7 (http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2018/7.html)

This is the opening of the judgement delivered by Mr Justice Baker before rejecting the application by the Official Solicitor to recover the costs incurred in dealing with the test cases that were eventually dropped in relation to the Deprivation of Liberty of mentally incapacitated adults.

The four test cases mentioned were to seek clarification on whether mentally incapacitated adults whom lived at home with care plans devised and administered by the applicant, were being deprived of their liberty. In each application the applicant sought a declaration from the Court of Protection that the respondent was not being deprived of their liberty.

In respect of two of the four cases the Official Solicitor declined to accept the invitation, that by reason of their means, they did not qualify for public funding. It was considered not appropriate to utilise their own funds to support a test case and therefore it was agreed these two cases would be stayed. In respect of the remaining two respondents who qualified for public funding, the application continued. Inter-party discussions led to the Official Solicitor withdrawing the applications for declarations and instead sought consequential directions in all four cases.

The grounds for withdrawal were; reconsideration in light of the Official Solicitor’s analysis, difficulties and delays meant only one of the four cases was capable of proceeding on the preliminary issues and the recent publication by the Law Commission reduced the justification of the declaration sought.

The two publicly funded cases, by this point had amounted costs of approximately £30,000.00. The Official Solicitor applied for all or part of the costs accrued to be the responsibility of the applicant by arguing that the case should not have been viewed as a typical welfare case but more as a civil claim. For various reasons, this was rejected.

When considering the Applicants conduct in the matter, it was successfully pointed out that three of the four test cases were unsuitable to be included from the outset which should have been identified. The remaining test case was not pursued due to the ineligibility of public funding, it was viewed by the Court that the applicant should have funded the matter. The Law Commission’s report in which the Official Solicitor relied upon when responding to the application was published prior to the case management hearing so the outcome of the Official Solicitors response should have been reasonably considered. Thus, rendering the costs incurred by the Official Solicitor in responding for the most part as unnecessary.

In response, the Applicant submitted that the application was in good public interest due to the uncertainty of the area of law in respect of the Cheshire West’s “Acid Test”, that withdrawing the application was justified due to the lack of a “sufficiently broad range of facts to give the applicant sufficient guidance to the 100+ incapacitated adults for whom it is responsible for providing healthcare services at home” and the budget constraints which made funding the application without public assistance unattainable.

It was concluded that a costs order against the applicant in this matter was inappropriate save as to those of the Official Solicitor’s costs that were publicly funded.

Bridie Sanderson is a Paralegal in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department.

You can contact Bridie on 0113 336 3350, or alternatively email at bridie.Sanderson@clarionsolicitors.com

Can The Court of Protection Keep a Patient Alive?

It is well known, and often the cause of heated debate, that assisted suicide is illegal within the United Kingdom. If a person is terminally ill and wishes to die, that person would have no rights under UK law to end their life with dignity. However, recent case law suggests that there may be a slight shift in how the Court of Protection handles a terminally ill patient.

Recently, the Supreme Court judged that a 52 year old man (Mr Y) with an extensive brain injury should be allowed to die without Mr Y’s family being forced to apply to the Court of Protection. At the time of the application, Mr Y was receiving clinically assisted nutrition and hydration and although Mr Y had died at the time of the appeal, it was deemed necessary for the appeal to proceed due to the importance of the issues raised.

For clarity, once clinically assisted nutrition and hydration is withdrawn, a person is generally expected to survive no more than two weeks. Following on from the Supreme Court ruling, it has now been agreed that where the family and medical practitioners are in agreement, it is no longer necessary for an application to be made to the Court of Protection.

This decision had also been taken in another case where a woman (M) who had suffered with Huntington disease for over 25 years was permanently residing in hospital and was in a minimally conscious state. The Supreme Court judged that the clinically assisted nutrition and hydration was withdrawn and M died shortly after. Following the decision, Jackson stated “There was no statutory obligation to bring the case to court … A mandatory litigation requirement may deflect clinicians and families from making true best-interests decisions and in some cases lead to inappropriate treatment continuing by default. Indeed, the present case stands as an example, in that M received continued CANH that neither her doctors nor her family thought was in her best interests for almost a year until a court decision was eventually sought.”

However, it is worth noting that the decision in M related specifically to those living on life support, as opposed to all ‘right to die’ cases.

It is becoming clear that there is a shift appearing from the way in which those who are terminally ill are treated by the courts. Previously, an application to the Court of Protection would be required to make a decision on the care received, however, now it appears that the best interests of the terminally ill patient will be put first without the requirement of an application.

Court of Protection Costs – How to get paid and what happens to your costs?

As many hard-working solicitors are focused on ensuring their clients get the best service, it is possible for them to lose sight of their own costs. Here is a refresher guide to the procedure for getting paid.

The Payment Process

The process begins when the anniversary of the Order/matter completes, and the files are sent to your Costs Lawyer or Law Costs Draftsman; at Clarion, we offer the expertise of both. It is good practice to do this annually, as close to the end of the annual management year as possible (Section 6 of PD19B). This means that no costs are lost if there is an overlap period from the previous months or years.

Secondly, whilst the file is with your trusted Costs Lawyer or Law Costs Draftsman, the Bill of Costs is prepared. A Detailed Bill is required for matters with profit costs exceeding £3,000 and a Short Form Bill is needed for matters with profit costs lower than £3,000. There is no difference in the procedure for the bills – the difference in their names reflects their differing length and the amount of detail that they contain.

The Bill of Costs is then completed and, along with supporting documents, filed with the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO) for assessment, after which its returned by the SCCO to your lawyer.

Process for reassessment

Upon reviewing the assessment, if you are unhappy with it, you can lodge a request for reassessment with the SCCO. Here at Clarion, we are more than happy to review any assessments and consider an appeal; we can also lodge the request for reassessment on your behalf. Please get in touch with a member of our Costs Team to find out more.

The process for the request for reassessment is as follows:

  • If you are unhappy with the outcome of the assessment, you can request a reassessment within 14 days of the original assessment.
  • The Bill of Costs is returned to the Costs Officer for reconsideration in respect of the points appealed.
  • The Costs Officer will generally accept where they have made an error. They base their assessment on the points raised before them, so these points need to be justified; Costs Officers have been known to be unpredictable.
  • If you are still unhappy with the assessment, you can proceed to an oral hearing before a Costs Master, but be aware that this can be an expensive and timely process.

When you are happy with the assessment outcome, copies of the assessed Bill of Costs are served on the interested parties (if applicable) who have 14 days to challenge the Bill.

Once the assessment is finalised then a Costs Summary can be completed and filed with the SCCO, allowing the Costs Certificate to be drawn, and you to get paid.

Then the procedure will repeat, as and when the time period (annually) completes, although there are various scenarios which would result in changes to the process as described above. In these circumstances, get in contact with our team and we can assist, where necessary, to ensure that you are paid.

Joshua Sidding is a Paralegal in the Court of Protection Team of the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact him at Joshua.sidding@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 222 3245, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.

You can also take advantage of our free telephone advice service – available outside of office hours – by calling 07764 501252.

Getting paid properly – Costs Estimates

Costs Estimates

Why provide an estimate of costs to your client in respect to their legal claim?

It keeps your client informed and therefore there are no surprises, this in turn manages your client’s expectation. This helps to avoid any dispute regarding the level of fees.

However, there is also the techy but important part!

Failure to provide information about costs and funding options for litigation is a breach of the Solicitors Regulation Authority Code of Conduct 2011 (SRA Code 2011),  your obligations are to “clearly explain your fees and if and when they are likely to change”.

Consequently, keep your estimate up to date, monitor the estimate and advise the client if the estimate requires changing – prospective thinking is the key.

The estimate must be clear and concise, must be worded in a way that is appropriate for the client and must be given in writing and regularly updated. The client should be provided with a detailed estimate, not just a ball park figure.

A solicitor is required to undertake a cost benefit analysis. The Code’s requirement in Rule 2.03 (6) is that “a solicitor discusses with their client whether the likely outcome in a matter will justify the expense or risk involved, including, if relevant, the risk of having to bear an opponent’s costs”.

It is essential that the cost-benefit analysis must be kept under review throughout the matter and reviewed with the client at key stages.

What is the impact of not providing an estimate?

Your client may argue that they would have given different instructions/or not proceeded with the matter if they had known: how expensive the claim would be, the length of time it would take, the level of their legal costs that would be recoverable from the other side and also their liability for the other side’s costs.

What if the client asks you to undertake out of scope work?

Explain that the estimate does not cover the additional work and provide a further estimate of the additional work. Advise the client if there is any risk that this work may not be deemed recoverable from the other-side. Failure to do so may result in those additional costs being disallowed.

Is a solicitor bound by their estimate?

Sort of!

If the client requests an assessment of their costs in accordance with the Solicitors Act, the estimate may be used as a “yardstick to measure reasonableness”. Any estimates that have been exceeded because they are simply wrong will be taken into account, together with the circumstances surrounding it, i.e. the reliance the client placed on the estimate and costs reduced accordingly.

Always provide a realistic estimate

Keep your estimate realistic at the outset. Even regular updating might not subsequently save a bad original estimate. The court’s view is that the first estimate is a critical piece of information for a client’s decision whether or not to embark on the action.

The Code’s requirements are for “best” information to be provided about costs. Therefore providing low estimates are unlikely to comply with the SRA Code of Conduct.

IN SUMMARY

Always provide a detailed estimate of costs.

Prepare a realistic estimate of costs.

Monitor the estimate and revisit with client throughout – costs/benefit analysis.

Identify and advise regarding out of scope work.

Sue Fox is a Senior Associate and the Head of Costs Management in the Costs and Litigation Funding Department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact her at sue.fox@clarionsolicitors.com and 0113 336 3389, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 246 0622.