Charging for routine work in 10-minute units is ‘unusual’ in litigation and clients should be warned that they are unlikely to recover such fees in full from their opponents, a costs judge ruled last month.

In a preliminary ruling in Breyer Group Plc & Others v Prospect Law Ltd, Master Rowley in the Senior Courts Costs Office ordered that the 10-minute units charged by the defendants be reduced at detailed assessment to the usual one-tenth of an hour, or six minutes.

The judge, who was addressing the situation where individual ten-minute units had been charged for ‘routine items’, said that while this was normal in some transactional work, it was ‘an uncommon practice’ in contentious work, where the ‘invariable practice’ is to charge in six-minute units.

He added: ‘Given that this is an uncommon practice, it seems to me that the express agreement of the claimants in terms of the client care letter is not the end of the matter. The claimants needed to be told that routine items claimed at 10 minutes were unlikely to be recovered on that basis.’

The judge considered a number of other preliminary issues relating to the costs in the case, in which the claimants are bringing Solicitors Act 1974 proceedings against their former solicitors. In relation to the amounts charged for ‘incoming’ correspondence, the judge adopted a ‘broad brush’ approach, reducing the amount the defendants could charge to half the rate permitted for outgoing correspondence.

Master Rowley also addressed the issue of the defendant’s departure from the estimated costs it gave to the claimants during the course of proceedings. He concluded that the defendant’s costs should not be capped at the level of the estimates, as the claimants had not relied on these enough to justify limiting the costs.