How to maximise costs recovery from the paying party in litigation

Welcome back to the third instalment of my new #askacostslawyer series. This week’s solicitor question is about time recording.

“What is the best way to record my time in order to maximise costs recovery from the paying party in litigation?"

Maximising the recovery of costs in litigation often hinges upon the maintenance of thorough and precise timekeeping records. It sounds straightforward, and in theory it is. But putting that theory into practice, especially when a solicitor is under time pressures (i.e., most of the time), requires discipline, and often gets neglected.

So, to answer this week’s question, I have put together a list of five key areas relating to time recording that a solicitor should (at least) keep in mind.

1. Embrace Detail and Timeliness in Time Recording

Effective time recording is at the heart of costs recovery. It is essential to document every single minute spent on a case, no matter how seemingly insignificant the task. This includes everything from the time spent on phone calls and emails to document drafting and research.

Timeliness in recording these activities is critical. Ideally, time should be recorded immediately after the completion of a task to minimise the risk of any work being overlooked. Prompt recording can also improve accuracy, as the details of the task will be fresh in your mind.

Furthermore, each entry in your log should be comprehensive. It should include the duration of the task, the nature of the work performed, the individual who carried out the task, and a clear justification for why the task was necessary. This level of detail can increase transparency and make it easier to justify these costs during a detailed assessment.

2. Apply Specific Time Increments

When logging your time, it's important to record time in complete six-minute units, without rounding the time up or down to the nearest half hour or hour. This practice ensures a more precise reflection of the time spent on each task.

More granular timekeeping can be particularly beneficial during a detailed assessment, where you may need to justify the time spent on specific tasks. More precise time records can provide a more defensible basis for the time you claim, potentially leading to a more favourable costs recovery outcome.

3. Ensure All Billable Activities Are Recorded

Billable activities encompass more than just communications and contact with your client. They also include all activities that contribute to a case, such as phone calls, outgoing emails and letters, research (but only if it relates to a novel point of law), drafting documents, attending meetings, court attendances, and travel time related to the case as long as it is not in relation to local travel, ie within a ten-mile radius. In short, any time which progresses the claim is recoverable from the paying party.

It's crucial to remember that every moment spent on a case holds intrinsic value. Overlooking or failing to record these activities could result in a significant underestimation of the time spent on the case, which could ultimately impact your costs recovery negatively. It is worth remembering that, whilst a costs lawyer can estimate time for work which is evidenced by the file but for which time has not been recorded, you are much less likely to be allowed estimated time if the costs have to be assessed by a judge, with any doubt usually being resolved in favour of the paying party.

4. Proportionality and Reasonableness Are Key

While capturing all billable time is vital, it's equally important to ensure that the costs claimed are both proportionate and reasonable. Courts are unlikely to award costs they deem disproportionate to the case's value, importance, and complexity.

Keep in mind, scrutiny isn't solely about the total amount. Individual items within your claim will be examined, and those seen as excessive may be reduced or even disallowed. Consequently, every minute you claim must be justifiable in light of the task's complexity, importance, and the context of the case.

5. Be Well-prepared for Detailed Assessments

Detailed assessments are a critical component of costs recovery, and you should always be prepared for them. This preparation means keeping all original documents and records organised and easily retrievable. Courts will often ask for supporting documentation for each entry in your time records.

Having a well-maintained and accessible record of your work not only saves valuable time during the assessment process but can also significantly improve your chances of a favourable outcome. It shows that you have taken a diligent and professional approach to your work, which can only bolster your case during a detailed assessment. Indeed, if your file and time recording are well organised, there is a strong likelihood of the costs claim being agreed without having to ask the court to assess the costs.

In my opinion, meticulous, organised, and transparent timekeeping is the cornerstone of maximising costs recovery in  litigation. By being diligent in recording every billable minute and ensuring that every cost claimed is reasonable, proportionate, and recoverable from your opponent, you will place yourself in the best possible position to achieve a favourable costs recovery outcome.

As ever, if you have any questions that you would like answered in this series, or just want a chat about costs, just drop me a line or leave a comment.

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