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A top ranking Irish law firm is refusing to reveal its hourly rates in a clash with the Government over the £3.19m it was awarded in legal fees following a tribunal lasting more than 200 days.
A&L Goodbody was awarded the costs by the Taxing Master of the High Court for representing meat processing company Goodman International at the tribunal into the beef industry.
But the Government has attacked the fees as excessive and paid just 65 per cent of the bill pending an appeal against the taxing master's decision. Furthermore, it has been angered by the law firm's refusal to disclose its hourly rates during the appeal hearing.
Tagh O'Neill, legal cost accountant with the Chief State's Solicitor's Office, stressed the distinction between the "luxury" of solicitor and client costs and the "party and party" costs awarded by taxing masters.
He said he was puzzled by the firm's refusal to provide rate details of despite initially giving a breakdown of hours worked by personnel at various levels.
But a spokeswoman for A&L Goodbody described the whole issue as a "red herring". "For work of this size there is no hourly rate," she said. "There has never been a tribunal like this in Ireland to compare the work to. It was an independent taxing master who valued the work, not us. His calculations are public, any other details are irrelevant."
Another leading practitioner said that it was not possible to provide usual hourly rates because the tribunal, into alleged corruption in the beef industry, was so unusual. He added that the whole matter had become highly politicised.
"The state is trying to reduce its bill by making the law firm appear greedy. Even if the firm let approximate hourly fees be known, the amounts would seem shocking to the public," the practitioner said.
A decision on the state's appeal in the Taxing Master's Court is expected in the next two weeks, but sources speculate the matter may take another year to resolve if, as seems likely, it goes to the High Court.