The defendant costs specialists

Second fee earner attending conference

By on Sep 4, 2018 | 7 comments

Of the various costs building wheezes that some claimant firms engage in, having a second (or third) junior fee earner attend conferences with Counsel, to take notes, is one of the classics.

When this issue arises at detailed assessment, I know at least one costs judge who confirms that, when he was a practising solicitor, he would often have a trainee solicitor attend conferences to take notes but would not dream of charging for this work as it was primarily for the benefit of the trainee as part of their training process.  It was not chargeable work.

The usual justification advanced by claimant solicitors for having the junior fee earner attend to take a note is that this enables the main fee earner to properly engage in the conference itself.  This is predicated on the notion that a Grade A fee earner cannot be expected to both follow what is going on in the conference and also make a note of what is being said.  This, of course, is usually in the context of conferences that are largely Counsel led.  This argument tends to be rather undermined when it is being made to a costs judge at detailed assessment who is managing to keep a detailed contemporaneous note of the submissions being made, asking probing questions of the advocates as the matter progresses and able to make comprehensive ex tempore judgements on complex points of law at the drop of a hat.  But then, you cannot expect fee earners claiming up to £450 an hour to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

If only the problem stopped there.

I have had two recent cases where the time claimed by the junior fee earner writing up a note of the conference, in addition to the time claimed in attendance, massively exceeded the length of the conference itself.

In one, a total of 3 hours 30 minutes was claimed drafting the note of a conference that only lasted 1 hour 12 minutes.

In the other, a total of 6 hours was claimed by two fee earners preparing a conference attendance note of a conference that only lasted 3 hours 36 minutes.

Unless the time is being claimed for typing-out verbatim, with two fingers, everything that was said at the conference, how is it possible for more time to be spent on the note than was spent at the conference itself?

At what stage in the evolution of the modern law firm did solicitors first come to believe it was acceptable to advance such claims?

    7 Comments

  1. I think it is a sign of the times (however I did once see a claim for oysters as subsistence years ago). Counsel are at it too, recommending additional work that may be a luxury rather than a necessity. The loss of profit in certain areas (such as PI) has hit some firms hard. In addition to that, you even have firms that exist just to attack the fixed costs. It seems like some try and milk the cow a little too hard when they know that they are getting paid. But who can blame them, many firms have gone under and more will in due course.

    Realist

    4th September 2018

  2. Ha, without wish to sound to Monty Pythonish, had a bill where as well as two fee earners two sets of travel expenses and car parking were claimed as they traveled to the conference in separate cars!

    Annony

    5th September 2018

  3. “Unless the time is being claimed for typing-out verbatim, with two fingers, everything that was said at the conference, how is it possible for more time to be spent on the note than was spent at the conference itself?”

    I’d say it is easy to spend more time. I could watch a 30 minutes TV episode and then spend 2 hours attempting to explain what happened in a note. In your 3 hours example, assuming it is clin neg, imagine the time required dealing with complex medical terminology, complex medical issues that may need cross referencing with existing reports, re-reviewing hand written notes to ensure that any report updates are fully set out so that the note assists the legal team, not to mention the need for it to be accurate as it will be looked at by counsel and experts. Whilst I’m not saying spending 6 hours is reasonable, I can certainly say that there is not always a correlation between con length and note time.

    Regarding multiple f/e attending, more often than not it shouldn’t be claimed. But that is not to say it is always unreasonable.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on QCs and Juniors undertaking the same cons, sorry consultations, and tasks? I always thought was a swiz of the highest order.

    Catty Mcclaws

    5th September 2018

  4. WOW so I am not the only person seeing this on a regular basis, the irony is, in my experience Cost Judges tend to allow multiple fee earners engaging on conferences and even client attendances at home/in the office. Maybe I should put my objections in bold …..

    The other irony is, if this was being done by certain people/firms under suspicion or just simply not well liked .. in …. lets say in Bolton, Lancs.

    The offices would be raised and the USB sticks removed and placed in the flat beds truck for investigations ….

    anonnyason

    5th September 2018

  5. Is it too obvious to suggest in this technological age that such conferences are recorded, thereby removing multiple attendances!

    Andrew Brasher

    11th September 2018

  6. @ Andrew
    Time spent listening to recording
    Transcription of conference costs
    Checking transcript
    Counsel checking transcript
    Etc etc

    Where there’s will there’s away 🙂

    Anon

    28th September 2018

  7. Catty Mcclaws hits the nail on the head. Extemporaneous speech is surprisingly incoherent and disfluent when transcribed. It takes time to transform the rough jottings of a conference — in which issues are not always discussed in a structured/compartmentalised fashion — into a proper note. I would also hazard a guess that the relationship between time spent in attendance and time spent writing up that attendance is non-linear.

    Jon Heath

    1st October 2018

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