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?