What grade fee earner for drafting a bill of costs?

What grade of fee earner can be justified for a law costs draftsman drafting a bill of costs?

Cook on Costs 2010, page 438, says this issue was discussed at a Costs Practitioners’ Group meeting at the SCCO “whose view was that while Grade D fee earners might be able to draw straightforward bills of under £10,000, all other bills ought to be drafted by a Grade C fee earner, since costs are a technical matter, and matters such as the operation of the indemnity principle need more experience than a Grade D fee earner is likely to possess.”

This suggests that the Costs Practitioners’ Group was of the view that it is acceptable for smaller bills to be drafted by fee earners who do not understand the indemnity principle.  It also suggests that student members of the ALCD who have had up to five years qualifying employment (and would therefore be the equivalent of a Grade D fee earner) might not understand the indemnity principle.  If true, something would have gone seriously wrong with the ALCD training and the previous five years work.

I’m still waiting to see a bill of costs that comes with a disclaimer that the person who drafted it does not understand the indemnity principle and no reliance should therefore be placed on the signature to the bill.  (Though no doubt routinely true even with very large bills.)

Cook on Costs does not identify which Costs Practitioners’ Group meeting is being referred to so the Legal Costs Blog did its own fearless investigative journalism.

The meeting referred to appears to be that of 8 March 2007.  The minutes can be viewed here.  Michael Cook is not listed as one of those present.

The minutes read:

“Mr Hocking [from the Association of Law Costs Draftsmen] outlined the current position. For run-of-the-mill cases in the provinces, bill drafting was normally allowed at grade “D” fee earner level, whereas advocacy was generally allowed at grade “C”. In larger and/or more complex matters, grade “C” might be achieved for bill drafting and grade “B” for advocacy which would be appropriate for Fellows of the Association of Law Costs Draftsmen, some of whom are also qualified solicitors or FILEX. The meeting agreed with this.”

There is absolutely no mention of a £10,000 limit.

Interestingly, the Supreme Court costs practice direction states:

” For a larger bill [over £10,000] the amount allowed for time reasonably spent in drafting the bill is calculated as a multiple of the relevant hourly rate for a Grade D fee earner (unless a claim for a higher grade is justified).”

Following on from my last post, and in anticipation of this post, one reader raised the question as to what rate is appropriate for the fee earner who “punches above his/her weight”. “Suppose the unqualified and therefore Grade C fee earner is actually highly skilled and routinely handles Grade A work. What rate should be paid then?”

A very good question. Almost the kind of question I would expect a member of the judiciary reading this Blog to anonymously post.

The full answer to that is a bit too long for this post. In relation to substantive litigation or advocacy at detailed assessment hearings I can see strong arguments for allowing a fee earner to recover higher hourly rates than their qualifications/experience strictly justifies, depending on their skill and the nature of the case being dealt with. However, when it comes to drafting routine bills of costs I just don’t buy the idea that this is ever anything other than Grade D work. 

Its very kind of Cook on Costs to try to pretend that anything other than the most complex bill of costs (and I mean complex rather than simply ones with a large amount of work claimed) justify anything other than a Grade D fee earner, but it is simply not true.  If your law costs draftsman is charging you Grade C rates or above for anything other than unusual claims you are being ripped-off.

10 thoughts on “What grade fee earner for drafting a bill of costs?

  1. I must say i agree in principle that only the more complex bills should attract more than a grade D; for example those with difficult apportionment issues or multiple parties with costs orders going here and there etc.

    For more routine bills however i think in reality there is a point being missed in all this. Yes, ideally that work should be undertaken by a grade D. But even if a higher grade draftsman undertakes this work, then a respective saving in the time claimed for preparing the Bill should be seen given the extra experience.

    – as an example, grade D @ £100/h takes 6 hours (£600), grade C @ £125/h takes 4 hours (£500).

  2. Wot! Grade C fee earners can count letter and telephone calls quicker and can add minutes up faster than a Grade D fee earner,
    if this is the case why not just use Grade A fee earner

    as an example,
    grade D @ £100/h takes 6 hours (£600)
    grade C @ £125/h takes 4 hours (£500)
    (2/3rds of grade d time)
    grade B @ £150/h takes 2 hours 42 mins (£405)
    (2/3rds of grade c time)
    grade A @ £175/h takes 1 hour 48 mins (£315)

    Plus Clients would be happier as they would achieve a faster turn around of their files.

    Ok a bit tounge in check

  3. Oops meant to correct my spelling of tongue and caught the submit comment button.

    I was going to post the question, with many cases, a variety of grades of fee earners can undertake work depending on the experience necessary to undertake the particular task. Why is it necessary to have a grade B or C fee earner draft the whole bill of costs. If a matter is particularly complex, why can’t the grade B decide the issues and a grade d count the letters and record the preparation undertaken.

    On the issue of grade of fee earner, is it just me or do others find similar that the costs draftsman’s fee (whatever grade claimed) nearly always seems to work out the percentage of profit costs that the cost drafting firm used to or still charge.

  4. yeah, funny that

    Or better, the figure for hours spent, equates to more than the percentage in bills unuder 15k

    I know of several firms whom “justify” their fees that way, and count on a court thinking that its reasonable they are charging less than they should, rather than look at the reality of how much it should actually take

    It is there we come unstuck, as , unlike solicitors work where DJ’s have usually first hand experience of how long it takes, very few of them have ever drafted a bill, so have no idea of the work involved

    As for the prior suggestion that a grade D draftsman counts the letters and prep time, how many Associates/Fellows (oops, sorry, all the same thing now !) would put their name and Certificate on the line, for something they hadnt costed themselves? The suggestion is that drawing a bill is simply a question of arithmetic, which frankly, is absurd

  5. A quick test for those solicitors reading this blog: quiz your colleagues about the indemnity principle and see what responses you get.

  6. Why would they be afraid, Solicitors sign the bill of costs for work undertaken by lower grades of fee earner, are Associates/Fellows incapable of supervising a grade d draftsmen. Don’t believe that I suggested that drawing a bill of costs is simply a question of arithmetic (anyway it’s all done by computers these days, I remember the days when I had to use an abacus, well calculator anyway); however, a grade d costs draftsman should be capable of deciding if a telephone call or letter progressed the matter and is justifiably claimed on a party and party basis.

  7. My goodness, the niavity!! (with due respect)

    Pop quiz: a draftsman claims up to an hour for a solicitor checking – how many honestly (and I mean really honestly) spend much more than 5 – 10 minutes at most actually checking?

    As for draftsmen deciding whats reasonable to include, I’ll say 2 things.

    1) virtually every bill I see, is “kitchen sink” variety, theres no discretion applied, and very little thought

    2) as a former colleague (and Costs Lawyer in fact) famously and repeatedly says, “why should I pre-judge what the other side will object to or the Court disallow, I claim the lot and let them argue against it”

    Getting back to the original subject however. It is a fact, that the majority of bills up to £50k, are not unduly complex, and could be competently drafted by Grade D equivellent. Many of higher value are of the same ilk, as it is merely recording the work by the solicitor. Where the complexity comes in, is for example claim/counterclaim bills; bills with different apportionment of damages or costs payable; where there are various fee earners and rate changes; where the funding changes, especially where there is BTE with a limit which is up or exceeded; where the claim is truly complex e.g. brain damage, with many different experts etc. Here we should start at Grade C as a minimum, and move easily upward to Grade B

  8. Pingback: Properly drafted bills of costs |

  9. Just one further thought.

    I prepare Bills for a Grade A Partner whose workload is 100% personal injury.He charges himself out at £245 p/h.

    He knows nothing of insolvency law, whereas I prepare bills in bankrutcy and winding up proceedings. Equally he knows nothing relating to LCS matters or matrimonial or Court of Protection or Admiralty etc. Is he really worth that much more an hour than I am?

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