Legal Cost Specialists

How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?

By on Sep 14, 2010 | 4 comments

How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?

At what stage does a legitimate claim for legal costs become something rather different…

On an entirely different note, I came across the following in a bill of costs the other day:

20/07/2007 – Discussing strategy as to ATE insurance upon a lack of response. Confirming need to chase. (Senior Paralegal) – 6 minutes

20/07/2007 – Discussing strategy as to ATE insurance upon a lack of response. Confirming need to chase. Preparing a file note (Paralegal) – 12 minutes

There was presumably a corresponding chase-up telephone call claimed under routine communications (a further 6 minutes) as there was a further entry of 6 minutes for: “23/07/2007 – Preparing file note following telephone attendance with [ATE insurer] chasing response to application”. Ignoring the issue of whether work done in association with funding is recoverable, we therefore have a total of 30 minutes claimed in relation to making one chase-up telephone call due to a lack of response from the ATE insurer.

The matter was funded by way of a CFA with a 100% success fee. Even allowing for the fact the work was done by Grade C and D fee earners, by the time VAT is added a total of £151.58 is claimed for one chase-up telephone call.

The same bill also had these entries:

28/09/2009 – Discussing correspondence from defendant advising upon address of defendant. Discussing action to take in circumstances (Associate Solicitor) – 12 minutes

28/09/2009 – Discussing correspondence from defendant advising upon address of defendant. Discussing action to take in circumstances (Paralegal) – 12 minutes

The description of the correspondence is accurate. The email contained no other information. (We’ll ignore the general rule that “no separate charge is to be made for in-coming letters or e-mails” (CPD 4.16(1).)

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when the discussion took place between Tweedledum and Tweedledee arguing over what to do in light of this dramatic development in the case.

Defendant law costs draftsmen will probably have guessed which firm of solicitors had the cheek to serve this bill.

The courts do have the power to penalise on detailed assessment this type of inflated bill (under Part 47.18(2)(b) and (c)). Unfortunately, the courts are very slow to exercise this power even when bills are reduced by 40%+. It is unfortunate that the Jackson Costs Review did not propose a fixed penalty for those serving bills that are reduced by more than a certain margin. It is the absence of any clear sanction that encourages claimant solicitors to serve grossly inflated bills with impunity.


  1. Surely those defendant cost negotiators that are paid a percent of what they knock off the bill must relish inflated bills.

    Separately, i find that certain judges at my local court are more easily pursuaded to find that costs are not proportionate and although i don’t think that the proper test of necessity is in much way different from the test of reasonableness my local court defines proportionality in a way not dissimilar to that of Jackson (i.e. hack the bill to pieces without any real understanding or ackowledgement of the necessity of the work done).

    The fact of the matter is if i submit a bill to court at £20000 and the court finds it disproportionate i might get £12000.

    If i submit a bill for the same matter at £16000 i will most likely recover more than £12000.

    Stupid item claims tarnish the bill and give the judge the option to open the doors and reduce items that would otherwise not be reduced.

    That is an incentive to not claim for crap (like the examples given above).

    I would like to know which courts endorse ‘claim more, get more’ so that i can issue out of there.

    Robert Pettitt

    14th September 2010

  2. The draftsman who prepared the bill should be advising his client appropriately re: such items and as to whether it is advisable to include them at all. Clearly the decision taken, either by the draftsman or instructing solicitor, was one along the lines of ‘we’ll bang them in but concede them’ or similar.

    I agree with the above to some extent, it is probably more beneficial overall to your claim for costs if certain items such as those Simon refers to are left out from the beginning. The running of files inevitably entails certain tasks such as those described above, the question is are they to be included in the bill or not? Different people have different views i’m sure.

    Like Robert says, surely this is only assisting paying parties as they are able to reduce more from a Bill and (probably) earn more money from the case as a result. Plus the receiving party draftsman has (probably) invoiced more in fees as the bill is slightly larger than it should be.

    Everyone’s a winner??!!??

    Paul Elder

    14th September 2010

  3. the example Simon gives, I often see in bills, giving me the chance to prompt the DJ assessing to readily agree to my submission, “this is clearly a kitchen-sink bill”.
    They love to adopt the phrase and recite it back whilst hammering the bill!
    Regarding the penalty effect, however, i have to agree this is very much hit-and-miss. Often, however, i can at least get a %age order limiting costs

    The cheek of some draftsmen though regarding DA costs; true tale. Modest RTA bill. Case prematurely issued however, we said. DJ agreed. He proposed to excercise discretion, and assess costs at a figure proportionate and commensurate to PCR. CD objected, saying he had no power to. DJ asked if he wanted a full assessment, CD said he had to. 4 hours later, bill assessed less than PCR – CD asked for his costs of DA by right pursuant to CPR 47.18! Guess whom is drawing their bill for DA costs to be assessed!


    14th September 2010

  4. Please follow the link given and/or search on “liaquat ali wheelie bin” for other listings. Do you think £36,370 in “costs” is both reasonable and proportionate to litigate over a domestic wheelie bin!

    Liaquat Ali

    17th December 2012


  1. Part 47.18 | - [...] I've mentioned before the reluctance of the courts to fully utilise their powers under Part 47.18. [...]

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