Accosting costs

Accosting costs Every now and then a judge hands down a ruling that should make the profession sit up and take note.

Remember the pounding Allen & Overy (A&O) received from Mr Justice Floyd when he said the costs it had racked up on Research In Motion UK [RIM] v Visto were “totally unfamiliar to anyone who has been involved in economically conducted patent litigation”? Nothing like a bit of public humiliation to prompt some firmwide soul-searching.

Although Mr Justice Jackson praised the lawyers on Multiplex v Cleveland Bridge for ­working “prodigiously hard” to end the dispute, he also handed down enough damning remarks to make the statement appear decidedly tongue-in-cheek.

How about labelling the case a hydra? Okay, not everyone is well-versed in Greek mythology, but given the analogy to the many-headed monster that grew two new skulls each time her opponent ­severed one, this was not meant as a compliment.

As if it needed spelling out further, Jackson J told the court he had “never before seen parties so devoted to litigation for its own sake”.

That’s got to hurt. But when the case’s £22m costs include £1m in photocopying, he has a point. I mean, £1m? That’s a hell of a lot of paper and, given the hydra comment, much of it presumably unnecessary. Here’s hoping it’s all been sent for recycling.

As with RIM v Visto, a major concern for the judge was the level of fees racked up by the lawyers. But the BlackBerry case saw A&O take the heat while its opposite number Taylor Wessing was praised for controlling its costs, whereas in the Wembley case both sides came under fire.

Almost unbelievably, litigation boutique Reid Minty – a virtual unknown until it merged with McGrigors earlier this year – managed to rack up a similar level of fees acting for Cleveland Bridge as its opposite Clifford Chance did for Multiplex: £6.5m over two years (including barristers) versus £12m over four.

The disparity is stark given the chasm in the firms’ standings. Starker still is the impression that, with neither side actually being able to claim a clear victory, that’s a massive bill for something inconclusive.