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23 February 2022
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News in brief - 24.02.2022

New issue of Costs Lawyer ready to read

The latest issue of Costs Lawyer magazine is now available for members to read here.

It features the never-ending saga that is part 36, the pitfalls of detailed and summary assessments, and various aspects of costs recovery, as well as wise advice from Professor Dominic Regan to not panic about the impact of various upcoming and potential costs reforms.

 

Defendant firm welcomes guidance on costs for non-recent abuse cases

Leading defendant law firm Keoghs has welcomed an SCCO ruling that it said provided “useful guidance” on the appropriate make-up of a legal team running a non-recent abuse claim within specialist firms and the rates that should be allowed.

Writing on the firm’s website, director Paul Edwards, who manages the costs team in Keoghs’ Liverpool office, said such claims were “understandably difficult and sensitive to deal with”, but as a result costs routinely dwarfed the compensation recovered.

“For some time, there has been a growing concern about the level of bills presented in these claims,” he said. “Senior fee-earners often lead these claims with the consequence that claims for excessive hourly rates are made at same the time as relying on counsel and incurring substantial amounts of time.”

TRX v Southampton Football Club (SC-2020-BTP-001182) concerned a claim pursued in vicarious liability for abuse committed by a former employee. Specialist London firm Bolt Burdon Kemp (BBK) acted for the claimant, one of some 26 similar claims. It settled for £4,000 shortly after proceedings were served and a defence filed. BBK claimed costs of nearly £66,000.

The claimant’s solicitors maintained that the settlement value was on a commercial basis and that the outcome did not reflect its full value. At least five different fee-earners worked on the case.

Mr Edwards reported that Master Brown concluded that these sorts of claim could, in a specialist firm, be largely conducted by a grade C fee-earner, with some supervision. One conference with counsel was also allowed.

The judge said: “It seems to me, if one is instructing such a firm, one would reasonably expect a grade C solicitor who will be qualified and would have had experience with sexual abuse claims for up to four years, to be able to conduct the claim as the principal or main fee-earner.

“I do not take the same view as to the generic costs aspect of the bill, in respect of which I consider a greater involvement of grade A fee-earner appropriate. I do also accept that in relation to work on this particular claim, some input by way of supervision, if that is the right term, from a more senior fee-earner, a grade A or a grade B fee-earner, is also reasonable.”

TRX lived in a National band 1 area. For work done in 2019 and 2020, BBK sought £480 per hour for grade A, £365 for grade B, £350 for grade C and £170 for grade D. Master Brown allowed £330, £250, £210 and £135 respectively.

Having decided that most of the work should have been done by the grade C fee-earner, he assessed the bill at £23,000. He refused permission to appeal to the High Court on the issues of rate and grade.

Tom Jenkinson, a senior associate at BBK dealing with the case, said: “In my opinion, the TRX decision on hourly rates will not have the far-reaching ramifications that Keoghs suggest. Each case falls on its facts and, in my experience, costs judges use their discretion to decide reasonable hourly rates rather than applying a mechanistic approach with reference to hourly rates allowed on other cases. 

“The decision to reduce the grade A time to a grade C hourly rate is ill-conceived, in my view, because a grade A fee-earner is naturally more efficient than someone at grade C level - so while a grade A fee-earner commands a higher hourly rate, they spend less time on a task compared to a grade C fee-earner. Therefore, applying this method results in an illogical assessment of the costs.”

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