High Court: No case justifies only using grade A fee-earners

Matthews: 30 years’ experience

A High Court judge said yesterday that he has never come across a case where some of the work could not be delegated to a more junior fee-earner.

His Honour Judge Paul Matthews, sitting as a High Court judge in Bristol, made the comment in reducing the costs sought by a receiving party because all of the work was handled by a solicitor claiming grade A rates.

He also stressed that it was not for the paying party to identify which work could have been delegated.

The judge’s summary costs assessment followed his decision to strike out a claimant company’s application for an injunction to restrain presentation of a winding-up petition.

The respondent sought costs of £9,000 (including VAT) but HHJ Matthews said he was “unhappy” that everything was done by the grade A fee-earner. “One of the important skills of a solicitor is to know how to delegate less important work to less expensive fee-earners,” he said.

Even though the client was entitled to insist on the grade A fee-earner doing everything, or there may be no one to delegate to, this did not mean the opponent had to pay for it.

“At that stage the question is instead whether the costs are reasonably incurred and reasonable in amount. And reasonableness takes account of potential delegation. Moreover, it is not for the paying party to have to identify work which could have been done by a more junior fee-earner.

“In my former experience over 30 years as a practising commercial litigation solicitor, there were no litigation cases that I was involved in in which no work whatsoever could have been delegated to a more junior lawyer.” (His emphasis)

Here, HHJ Matthews said, it appeared that delegation had simply not been considered. As an example, he said there was no need for the grade A fee-earner to attend the hearing and sit behind experienced counsel. A grade C or D fee-earner “would have been fine”.

The judge also criticised the solicitor’s hourly rate of £350, compared to the £261 set out by the guideline hourly rates for a grade A fee-earner practising in Bristol.

“I see nothing in the present case to suggest that the work done here was above average either in difficulty, or in complexity, or in novelty, or in importance to the client, or in some other way.

“This was, if I may respectfully say so, typical business work. A figure slightly above the guideline, so to say, within touching distance of it, would not be too high. A figure £89 (34%) above the guideline in my opinion is too high.”

He reduced the costs to £7,900, including VAT.

    Readers Comments

  • Matthew Smith says:

    7900/9000 = just under 88%. So whilst delegation might have been an issue, the overall costs must not have been thought too bad.

  • lcdman says:

    Despite his comments that the rate was 34% too high and that some work should have been delegated, the costs were only reduced by around 12%

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