Ensure consistency between your Costs Budget and Bill of Costs

Consistency and a true connection between Costs Management and Detailed Assessment is essential for the successful recovery of costs on Detailed Assessment.

If a costs budget is prepared incorrectly, which creates a disconnection between the costs budget and bill of costs, then you can expect a costs law obstacle course and a heavy migraine on detailed assessment.

The case of MXX -v- United Lincolnshire NHS Trust [2018] is a great example, which is summarised below:

Background, Retainer and Hourly Rates

The Claimant instructed her Solicitors in 2012 and the matter was funded by way of a Conditional Fee agreement with the rate for the conducting lawyer (Grade A) agreed at £335 per hour.

In August 2013 the rate for the conducting lawyer increased to £460 per hour (this was an error). In January 2015 the hourly rate was reduced to £350 (effective from May 2014). It was increased to £360 in 2015 and £365 in 2016.

The substantive proceedings related to a high value injury claim, with quantification being resolved in November 2016. The claim was subject to a Costs Management Order dated 2 March 2015.

Detailed Assessment Proceedings were commenced in March 2017 and the bill of costs totalled circa. £1.3 million.

Background to the Costs Management Order

At the CCMC, the District Judge dealt with estimated costs and correctly stated that the incurred costs were for detailed assessment. The hourly rate included in the costs budget for the conducting lawyer was £465 per hour.

In respect of the estimated costs, the Judge indicated a composite rate of £280 per hour, which the parties then used to agree the estimated costs for each phase.

Discrepancies between Budget and Bill

Following the commencement of detailed assessment proceedings, the Defendant compared the costs budget (Costs Management Order) with the bill of costs and noted the following discrepancies:

  • Substantial differences in relation to hourly rates.The hourly rate included in the costs budget for the conducting fee earner was £465.00 per hour, but in the bill of costs hourly rates of £335.00 and £350.00 were claimed; and
  • The bill of costs included roughly 144 to 147 hours less time for incurred costs than the costs budget.

The Defendant had legitimate concerns and made an Application for an Order pursuant to CPR 44.11, arising out of what the Defendant described as a mis-certification of the Claimant’s costs budget in the substantive proceedings.

Decision

It is well worthwhile reading the Judgment and the very articulate submissions advanced by both parties. This will help you to fully understand the decision, which was as follows:

  1. The Master did not find that the errors regarding the rates for the conducting fee earner (in respect of estimated costs) or the significant time discrepancies in relation to the time included in the costs budget and the bill of costs amounted to improper conduct.
  1. However, the Master did find that there was improper conduct in relation to the inflated rate/s claimed within the budget (as incurred costs).The Master had previously dealt with a case with some similar issues (Tucker v Griffiths & Hampshire Hospitals NHS Trust 2017) and decided to apply the same sanction in this case as he did in that case, which was to disallow the items claimed in the bill of costs which related to the Costs Management Order.The Defendant had submitted that the Claimant’s bill of costs should be reduced by 75% due to the errors, but the Master said:“Whilst those behind the Defendant in both cases may have considered the sanction in Tucker to be insufficient, it seemed to me to be the only appropriate sanction. There is nothing wrong with the Bill in terms of the indemnity principle. The problem lies with the budget. I consider it to be entirely appropriate to impose a sanction in respect of the work which caused the problem.That work is the non-phase time spent creating and maintaining the budget. It would be wrong in my view retrospectively to disallow some of the budget itself”.

    The decision in this case (and in the case of Tucker) are both cases which were before Master Rowley at the Senior Courts Costs Office. Another Court/Judge could reach a different conclusion and I certainly expect to see this issue again before the Courts for the following reasons:

Lawyers do not time record consistently within their respective departments and firms, which means that discrepancies between budgets and bills will continue to regularly occur and a different Judge/Master may well adopt a more stringent approach;

Costs Budgets are regularly being prepared by non-specialists and prepared very “late in the day”, which leads to errors; and

There is a misconception that the costs budget is a more flexible document than a bill of costs i.e. the statement of truth to a bill of costs carries more weight than a statement of truth to a bill of costs.It is very important that all lawyers (and law firms) approach Costs Management consistently and understand the importance it has on detailed assessment. If that is done, then it leads to a consistent bill of costs, less obstacles on detailed assessment and no migraine – but maybe a headache!

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

NB There are some other interesting points and views in the Judgment which I will cover in a further blog.