Nice little earner

By Dominic Ponsford

Three lawyers from a leading media law firm have been publicly
highlighted for making the most out of no win, no fee rules in the
Naomi Campbell House of Lords privacy case.

Daily Mirror lawyers are deciding whether or not to appeal to the
European Court over the £594,000 costs bill they were sent by lawyers
Schillings for representing the model at a two-day House of Lords
hearing.

To highlight the extent to which costs were racked up by
the firm, Mirror head of editorial legal Marcus Partington revealed
that Schillings charged the paper £4,500 for attending a formal hearing
which he said would have lasted around 15 minutes. The hearing in
question involved the Law Lords reading out the result of the case –
the actual judgment had been given to the two sets of lawyers a day
before.

To attend the hearing, Schillings charged the Mirror the
following: Keith Schillings, two hours 42 minutes at £475 per hour;
Gideon Benaim, two hours 42 minutes at £220 per hour; and Ambi
Sithamparanathan, two hours 42 minutes at £175 per hour.

Under no
win, no fee (Conditional Fee Agreements) lawyers can charge up to a 100
per cent success fee, to compensate them for the risk of failure. A 95
per cent success fee was charged by Schillings in this case.

Speaking
at the Press Gazette Newspaper Society Law for Journalists Conference,
Partington ridiculed Schillings for the charges and for charging a
success fee for action after the case was already won.

He said: “Just imagine the risk factor, they all went into the House of Lords.

They didn’t have to say anything. Was the risk that the judgment wouldn’t make it back to the office?

“I
don’t believe that in the real world Naomi Campbell was going to pay
that sum of money to Shillings. No client in the real world is going to
be charged for three solicitors to go to the House of Lords for a
hearing like that. The principle of costs is you should only recover
from the other side what you are charging your own client.”

Partington said the £594,000 costs charged by Schillings were “an absolute disgrace”.

Speaking
about the no win, no fee regime – which was brought in for those who
otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford libel actions – he said the firms
Carter Ruck, Schillings and David Price had been the beneficiaries of
the system.

Questioning whether the success fee charged is a true
representation of lawyers’ risks, he said: “Newspapers lose or settle
the vast majority of actions brought against them. The risk claimant
lawyers are taking in bringing such actions is very low, if not
nonexistent, in the vast majority of cases.”

David Price defended
the system, saying: “Losing one case is the equivalent of winning 10 or
more, because if you lose a case you are losing it at trial.

Then
there’s the whole process of evaluating cases under CFA. For every one
case we take on, we look at around 30 and we don’t charge for that.”

A
spokesman for Carter Ruck said they were willing to co-operate with a
government review of the CFA system and provide statistics to evaluate
whether the success fees charged were fair.

No one from Schillings was available for comment.

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