COSTS ALLOWED FOR INTER-FEE EARNER DISCUSSIONS & SUPERVISION OF PARALEGALS
the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court was hearing an appeal against an assessment of costs made by a High Court Master.
Although the case contains no new points of law it does contain some interesting findings on costs for discussion between fee earners and costs of supervising paralegals.
Inter-fee earner discussions
The claimants’ solicitors claimed for time spent by fee earners discussing the matters and the defendant, the paying party, said that no such discussions were necessary and all of these costs should be disallowed.
The Master disagreed, and so did the High Court on appeal.
This was an action involving 205 claimants who had suffered illness on a cruise and the awards broadly ranged from £500.00 to £1,500.00 in each case.
The average time worked out at 40 minutes per claimant per year for inter-fee earner time, taking into account that the time was doubled up as one person was talking to another.
The High Court said this about the Master’s decision:-
“Having spent three days looking at the bills he said that it was quite clear to him that the vast majority of the work had been done by paralegals. It was unrealistic to say there should have been no inter-fee earner discussions. Quite clearly there had to be discussions between the relevant fee earners who were doing different jobs in the litigation. He accepted Mr Mallalieu’s submission that there had been a proper team approach. Where possible the work had been pushed down to the lowest grade of fee earner.”
“It was a well-run and well-documented piece of litigation”, the Master continued.
The High Court said:-
“It is quite clear from the context and from the Master’s acceptance of Mr Mallalieu’s submissions that the Master was referring to the work on the case as a whole, and quite clear that he was right to say that that work had been done by the lowest level of fee earner possible.
“I agree with the Master that, in principle, if, as here, much of the work on files was being done by paralegals under the supervision of legal executives, it was necessary, from time to time, to have discussions between fee earners, specifically supervising solicitors, including partners. In the course of this short ruling the Master referred twice, correctly, to the test he had to apply. “
An excellent judgment which brings home the point that having paralegals who require supervision working on a case is not necessarily much cheaper than having an expert lawyer who can see the issues very quickly.
Unfortunately some paying parties want it both ways – that is paralegals dealing with a case but no costs allowed for supervision and discussions etc.
This case puts that argument to bed once and for all.
Fixed Recoverable Costs will soon be with us for almost everything – see my post:
One of the key decisions for law firms is whether it is more profitable to have lower paid paralegals who take more time and require supervision, or senior lawyers who cost more but can spot and deal with the issues more quickly.
The judgment is worth reading for the other, frankly ludicrous, points of dispute raised by the paying party, all dismissed by the Master and all dismissed on appeal.