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London Costs Seminar - 1 February 2017

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On 1 February 2017 Paragon Costs were proud to co-host the London Costs Seminar with Guildhall Chambers. Hosted at the Law Society hall on Chancery Lane in London, the delegates heard talks on a wide range of topics covering the current climate and upcoming developments in costs law. Paragon Costs and Guildhall Chambers were equally represented with two speakers apiece, followed by an insightful look "behind the curtain" of proportionality from Master Rowley.

After some welcome drinks, James Wibberley of Guildhall Chambers began the Seminar with a comprehensive guide through solicitor & own client costs. James combined statute and regulations with practical guidance for solicitors when deciding on the most appropriate retainer for a new client. He highlighted the common pitfalls that lead to an assessment of a solicitor's costs by their own client, and offered some top tips on how solicitors can protect themselves from such an outcome.

Next up Paragon’s Managing Director Nick Lee discussed the challenges faced during the costs budgeting process. After a quick refresher on the relevant CPR provisions that guide who, when and how a costs budget should be filed, Nick focused on practical tips garnered from his own vast experience of preparing Precedent H forms. He then progressed to the costs management process of exchanging, discussing and agreeing parties’ costs budgets. There were some useful strategic considerations depending on whether you were likely to be the paying or receiving party on costs, and even a cautious warning against appealing Costs Management Orders if you get that far.

Oliver Moore of Guildhall Chambers took over the reins in order to explore how the relatively new (albeit now 4 years’ old!) costs management regime fits in to the later detailed assessment of costs. Oliver carefully compared references to costs management and assessment in CPR 3 & 44 along with their Practice Directions, and highlighted how there is an apparent tension between the two that practitioners and Judges are still trying to resolve. He explored the attempts made to clarify this issue in the cases of SARPD OIL and more recently Merrix, and concluded with a consideration of the imminent amendments proposed by the CPRC. The questions that still remain unanswered are clearly going to pose some interesting challenges to solicitors, costs lawyers and counsel in the coming months.

Following a short break, Costs Lawyer and head of Paragon's commercial litigation team Lucy Baldwin returned to the practical side of costs maximisation. Having heard about the importance of costs budgets, the risks of facing an assessment of their own costs and the uncertainty of a detailed assessment, delegates were given guidance on how to best prepare for all of these eventualities. Lucy's advice ranged from the basics of recording accurate and useful attendance notes to tactical considerations around Part 36 offers and mediation proposals.

Lastly Master Rowley, an eminent costs judge sitting in the SCCO, gave all of those in attendance an extremely useful explanation of his interpretation of the proportionality test. Having briefly discussed the recent history of proportionality and the changes brought in by Lord Jackson in 2013, Master Rowley then discussed his widely reported application of the "new" test in May & May v Wavell Group & Bizarri. He explained the issues he faced at this hearing, the factors that were addressed when making his decision on reasonable costs and then proportionality, and then even posed some comparative “what if” questions to the audience. Hearing Master Rowley’s experienced comments on both the benefits and uncertainties posed by the application of the proportionality test at the end of a detailed assessment were invaluable for all in attendance.

After Master Rowley’s talk all five speakers engaged in a thought provoking panel session discussing questions submitted by delegates electronically during the talk. The successful evening was capped off with drinks, canapés and casual debriefings on the day’s topics.