May 2020: Re Fuseon 2020
In Fuseon Ltd, Gordon-Saker (senior costs master) was asked to assess the sum claimed of £428,000 against the Legal Aid CCU after the Lancashire estate agent Fuseon Limited brought a successful private prosecution against a fraudulent director of the business. It had instructed Central London firm Edmonds Marshall McMahon Limited. More than 1,000 items of disbursements and profit costs were claimed for.
it was initially determined by an LAA case manager in November 2017 that the sum of £180,000 was payable in costs.
This was later increased to £240,000.
It was not accepted by the case manager that Fuseon had no choice but to instruct a London firm.
The claimant continued to appeal this outcome and the matter was eventually remitted to the senior costs master for further directions.
It was not accepted that a London law firm had to be instructed reduced the hourly rate from the £350 claimed for grade A fee earners to £217 per hour accordingly. Accordingly the travelling time and expenses were similarly reduced to those that would have been reasonable for solicitors based in the north-west.
Master Gordon-Saker noted this was not a particularly complex case, but that the work was properly done in London and that Fuseon was entitled to the costs of investigation as well as prosecution. He said the matters elevating the case above guideline rates were the specialism of the solicitors instructed and the passage of time (roughly 18 months from speaking with lawyers to the court conviction).
In any costs case, the master said the guideline hourly rates which informed the case manager’s decision now tended to be ‘used as a starting position rather than as carved in stone’. Master Gordon-Saker allowed some of the time spent travelling from London, but said it was not reasonable for a client to pay a solicitor to travel to him, except for site inspections etc. He stated that the client was expected to travel to their solicitor. The Master also said reasonable time spent in inter-fee discussions was properly allowable, as it was difficult to delegate tasks to junior fee-earners without instructing them what to do.
On the other hand, two fee-earners attending on a witness or the client would rarely be reasonable without a specific reason. Gordon-Saker noted: ‘Lawyers should be reasonably adept, like most people, at speaking or listening and writing at the same time’ and also took the view that ipad recordings etc were entirely possible.
For the same reason, namely that lawyers should be reasonably adept at speaking or listening and writing at the same time, especially when Counsel is present, he disallowed more than one fee-earner attending trial together with counsel.
The master said the investigation of the defendant’s social media presence, the scheduling of outstanding action, the creation of the jury bundle, the drafting of notices of additional evidence and contacting witnesses during trial were all tasks of fee-earners.
Photocopying bundles, however, was not.
The conclusion therefore is that
a) At meetings, fee earners will be expected to record their sessions and this can be later transcribed by support staff. Therefore only one fee earner is chargeable to a client in a meeting.
b) At hearings, fee earners should be adept, like most people, at speaking or listening and writing at the same time (indeed barristers do this all the time) and therefore only one fee earner will usually be allowed for costs purposes at a hearing, especially if counsel is also engaged.
c) Charges for fee earners include:
– the investigation of the defendant’s social media presence,
– the scheduling of outstanding action,
– the creation of bundles,
– the drafting of notices of additional evidence, and
– contacting witnesses.
d) Photocopying is no longer an allowable time charge. (It would appear that disbursements for photocopy costs per page are allowable where charged at cost and that costs is determined with respect to print shop copy costs per page).