What single piece of Advice on costs would you give to a young lawyer to stand them in good stead throughout their career?  This was the question asked in the contest started last month.  The contest has a prize generously donated by David Bentley at Wig and Pens.

NB the contest closes at 4.00 pm on the 1st February.  There is still time to put in a last minute entry. (Doing things at the last minute is, after all, a large issue in many of the cases reported on this blog).



I am presenting a webinar on the 6th April 2023 – The Costs Judge Over Your Shoulder 2023 – Maximising recovery. Booking details are available here.

The webinar uses examples from reported cases to show where failures and omissions by the receiving party has led to their not recovering costs, or led to costs being substantially reduced.

  • What happens at a detailed assessment?
  • Where can things go wrong on assessment?
  • Why time records and attendance notes matter
  • What is the judge considering when assessing costs?
  • What is the costs judge looking at?
  • What is the costs judge looking for?
  • Strategies – from the start of a case – for keeping the costs judge happy


The prize for the costs contest is the prestigious Tower of London Wood Pen.  A handcrafted pen made from wood sourced from the renovation of the Tower of London.

Supplied as standard with a size 6 Beaufort Cyclone fountain pen nib or the Beaufort Cyclone roller ballpoint. Stunning premium metal hardware with screw action cap.

Details of the the pen can be found here.

Wig and Pen’s website can be viewed here.



  • Brent May

    Brent May · January 18, 2023 at 16:49:17

    Points for brevity?:

    ‘Record everything’

  • James M. Turner KC

    James M. Turner KC · January 18, 2023 at 16:55:51

    Which heart does not sink at the phrase “Qualified One-Way Costs Shifting?”
    Costs are the Great Shame of English law. The law on costs is so complex that it has specialist lawyers, judges, textbooks and even law reports devoted to it. Understand its workings well enough to avoid its torture chambers, and to that end keep a careful note of what you have spent your time on, because one day someone will ask you to explain.

  • Alexander Davenport

    Alexander Davenport · January 18, 2023 at 16:57:57

    Make sure your budget is correct and accurate throughout the life of a claim. Monitor and review it regularly it and stay within it – if you need to vary due to a development, do it asap. Cost recovery is much higher and easier if you are within an agreed budget!

  • Michael

    Michael · January 18, 2023 at 17:13:26

    Is your retainer in place? Do you know what you can charge at? Good let’s go….Did you pick up that file…..yes…..why? Brilliant now write that down in some detail before you forget and make sure you put the time taken next to it.

  • Chris Lethem

    Chris Lethem · January 18, 2023 at 17:22:24

    Remember this my son! The client will always be out of pocket. If they win (a) they may be unable to enforce the order for costs (do not litigate if there is any doubt about enforcement), (b) even on an indemnity costs order they will receive something like 80% of their costs, (c) on a standard basis it is more like 66%. On the other hand they might lose and pay the other sides costs. Even if they win they may get a % order for costs. So remember this my son, the client will always be out of pocket …………and tell them this before you do any work.

  • Jessica Gower

    Jessica Gower · January 18, 2023 at 17:34:39

    Don’t think that because either:

    A) costs isn’t your chosen area of practice
    B) you have an internal costs team or
    C) you instruct external costs lawyers

    That you do not need to have any real knowledge of costs or the costs process generally. Its helpful/ essential from multiple perspectives -for best practice, good client care, commercial awareness, profitability for the firm, your own personal/ future development… and if nothing else it’ll help save your own sanity/ embarrassment during CCMCs!

  • Simon G

    Simon G · January 18, 2023 at 17:35:58

    When you’re given a draft letter and you need to make it better, think costs.
    When your client is in a hurry and asks for a meeting, don’t worry. Think costs.

    Have you spent an hour doing something boring? Don’t forget your time recording. It’s all costs.
    If you have a budget, don’t lose your composure if you need to go over. Provide an update on costs.

    If the other side doesn’t know what they’re doing it’s best to tell them trouble’s brewing. On costs.
    If your application hearing is for less than a day, can you guess what I’m about to say? Serve details of costs.

    If clients need the best information, don’t forget proper communication. On costs.
    And when you act no win no fee, and it’s a total catastrophe, try not to think about costs too much. There’s more to the job.

  • Bradley

    Bradley · January 18, 2023 at 18:12:43

    In this green and pleasant land, litigation is inherently expensive and time consuming. The costs of the litigation are generally awarded by the Court to the successful party, unless the Rules or the Court orders otherwise. Those costs can very quickly outweigh the judgment sought and so it is prudent, if at all possible, to avoid incurring them by way of early negotiation, which even if unsuccessful will provide some protection from an adverse award. You may not recover all of those costs from the losing party and so it is crucial that the retainer between the solicitor and the client, and subsequent billing, follows the correct – but archaic – Solicitors Act rules. In the end, contemporaneous time recording and a good retainer reign supreme!

  • Simon Taylor

    Simon Taylor · January 18, 2023 at 18:20:01

    Don’t turn over every pebble on the beach. You won’t get paid to do so. Decide which ones are likely to be worthwhile. That decision is part of your job.

  • Chris Cooney

    Chris Cooney · January 18, 2023 at 18:31:45

    Be tough but pragmatic.

  • Jon Williams

    Jon Williams · January 18, 2023 at 18:39:07

    Record your time religiously and separately for each piece of work (and for attendances/conferences record, where applicable, a breakdown of the total time spent by reference to the phases of a budget) so as to avoid potentially arbitrary and unfavourable ex post facto apportionments. Other than that, just do what you are good at and befriend a reputable and experienced Costs Lawyer to do what they are good at: they will (should!) be better, quicker and cheaper at all matters costs than you and, at the very least, you would, in most cases, be most unlikely to recover your charging rate for doing ‘costs work’. There’s a good reason why we costs folk have occasionally been referred to (albeit rather unfairly I suggest) as “the necessary evil” (emphasis on the ‘necessary’ bit…).

  • Tao Singh

    Tao Singh · January 18, 2023 at 19:00:42

    To succeed follow rules one to four, but rule one in particular.

    1) Have clear and open communication with clients about costs from the start
    a) establish clear expectations & avoid any misunderstandings.

    2) Be efficient with time.
    a) use legal technology e.g. document management systems, schedulers etc.

    3) Streamline your workflow
    a) prioritize and focus on the most important tasks,
    b) avoid procrastination.

    4) Keep track of all expenses – use cloud storage and upload as receipts are presented.
    a) be mindful of the costs associated with your work
    i) e.g. court filing fees, expert witness fees,
    ii) other expenses.

  • Alan Robertshaw

    Alan Robertshaw · January 18, 2023 at 19:44:38

    To quote Judge Cook:

    “Most costs hearings are two people who nothing about costs arguing in front of someone who knows even less”.

    So best advice is to get a copy of Cook on Costs; and take it with you!

    But to maximise your chance of recovery, make sure you tick all the preliminary boxes. It’s missing the simple stuff that can really ruin your day.

    Client care letter. Make sure it fully complies and covers the work you are claiming for and that at the rates you seek to justify. Also have on hand the relevant guidance that says they don’t have to be signed; just on case (but do get them signed!)

    And get your schedule in at least the 24 hours before. That’s a really annoying technicality. to lose all your costs on

  • Clare W

    Clare W · January 18, 2023 at 20:07:32

    Develop many specialisms…other than costs!

  • Elliott Clifton-Thompson

    Elliott Clifton-Thompson · January 18, 2023 at 20:39:50

    Please sir, can I gave some more? Better to have too much time and not need it, than have to approach the bench, cap in hand, and ask for more. Be realistic with time needed and jobs required. Record vehemently, phase appropriately and for goodness sake, take proper notes!

  • Angela Wrottesley

    Angela Wrottesley · January 18, 2023 at 23:07:23

    Always make sure that there is a costs schedule whatever the nature of the hearing. If you are the advocate about to seek the costs set out in the schedule – make sure you yourself understand the schedule and how it is constructed. Importantly if all the work has been done by a Grade A fee earner understand the complexities of the matter and why such a grade was required. .

    Check if the Guideline Hourly Rate for the area in which the court is located has been claimed. If not – why not ?

  • Marc Banyard

    Marc Banyard · January 18, 2023 at 23:59:18

    There are three categories of lawyer: those who know about costs, those who think they know about costs but don’t and those who know they don’t know anything about costs. Even if you think you are in the first category, you are almost certainly in the second. When it comes to costs, do what any sensible person would do when confronted by a specialism in which they do not practice: seek expert advice. No good ever came of a lawyer attempting to wing it on costs. You are not the exception to that rule.

  • Paul Egan SC

    Paul Egan SC · January 19, 2023 at 07:48:20

    1) Compose every communication to anyone in anticipation of its being read by a judge and/or published in the Daily Mail.
    2) Compose every communication of advice to your client in anticipation of its being read and acted on (in unrelated circumstances) by a non-client, so (A) even if using defined terms for parties, try to use your client’s and antagonists’ names as much as possible (B) do not state any generalisations without applying them to the facts in question.
    3) Compose every communication to colleagues as you would to a good friend, even if their conduct is provoking you to articulate a momentarily gratifying but ultimately damaging remark. You’ll be glad when the judge reads it and it’s published in the Daily Mail.

  • Jayne Allison

    Jayne Allison · January 19, 2023 at 08:55:31

    Don’t forget to do a file note recording the time for lengthy letters; telephone calls and preparing documents. They may be on your WIP ledger but the Judge at DA likes to see a document on file.

    Don’t forget if you travel anywhere to record and evidence your expenses. They may not always be recoverable (local journey) but when attending a JSM, Conference with Counsel, etc, out of town, produce the evidence.

    Prepare a file note for thinking time in the shower, or driving home from work, etc. If you are thinking of what you need to do the following day, you are still working.

  • Rod Dutton

    Rod Dutton · January 19, 2023 at 09:53:50

    You start your career with a reputation as honest. You can only lose it once. Be a principled negotiater and keep the best records of everything you do. Balance risk against reward.Be helpful to opponents, provided it doesn’t prejudice your client. never forget your duty to the court and to the administration of justice. This advice applies to costs as to all areas of practice…

  • M White

    M White · January 19, 2023 at 13:03:49

    Not everything is black and white – the law is open to interpretation. Keep learning and be adaptable – Costs is an ever changing landscape. Remain honest and amicable – integrity & compromise is better than losing.
    Be passionate in your chosen career – if you do a job you love, you never work a day in your life!

  • Elisa Vanhinsbergh

    Elisa Vanhinsbergh · January 23, 2023 at 16:47:41

    Young man/woman/person… you might think no one enters the legal profession to specialise in costs; they are the accountants of the legal profession I suppose!

    The lawyers aside, no party tends to enjoy litigation because, amongst other stresses, it is costly to them. Given we are starting from this negative stand point, you must practice protecting yourself from reprisal by recording everything you do, with a detailed narrative. Do keep an eye on budgeting and reserves throughout your case so there are no unwelcome surprises!

    Costs teams (if you’re lucky enough to have one) will appreciate you clearly allocating your recorded time to the relevant phase of the case, for when they are drafting budgets and drawing up bills etc.

  • Tony Armstrong

    Tony Armstrong · January 23, 2023 at 17:38:41

    All work may not be recoverable but it is all recordable. Record the when, what and why. When did you do it? What did you do? But most importantly WHY did you do it?

  • Simon Myerson

    Simon Myerson · January 23, 2023 at 18:46:56

    The first think to know about costs
    Is whether you won or you lost
    If you won you insist
    That just one minute missed
    Would have rendered the whole case a frost.

    If you lost it’s a touch more complex
    And requires intellectual flex
    The judge bought a pup
    The storm’s in a teacup
    And de minimis non curat lex

  • mark balme

    mark balme · January 24, 2023 at 18:48:36

    Never surprise your client with an invoice

  • Matthew

    Matthew · January 26, 2023 at 20:37:11

    For all those who hated maths at school,
    And went into law as it would never be a vital tool.

    A lesson above all that must be learned,
    To avoid your fingers, fees and finances bring burned

    To do multiples of 2.5 in your head, a challenge indeed
    But to judges bored of costs, a genius you will be

    Never ever EVER forget the VAT.

    1. Hassan Dervish

      Retainer – Don’t start without one
      Record – Time
      Rules – Diarise deadlines
      Remind – Client of cost estimates

    2. AU

      AU ·

      For celerity’s sake, I will keep this succinct.

      The best advice in my view., whenever you approach any offer, or problem, or costs issue.

      “Ensure you or our client have an ENTITLEMENT to costs.”


    3. Ged Courtney

      Ged Courtney ·

      Attendance notes serve many functions. They allow you to record your time for billing purposes and act as useful reminders of work done months ago. When it comes to costs however, their most valuable use is as a contemporaneous account of not only what you did, but why you did it. The Court should not apply hindsight, so your view of the matter at the time of the note is incredibly useful. At assessment, the difference between recovering the time spent and not often comes down to the quality of the supporting note. Good notes will allow you to almost communicate directly with the Court. Use that opportunity. If a particular task was important, why was it important? If it took longer than might be apparent from the other materials, then why? It remains true however that notes should be professional and relevant, given the potential for judicial scrutiny.

    4. Ageing cynic

      Ageing cynic ·

      Contrary to all the above advice DON’T bother keeping detailed time records, just a rough idea is fine. They can always be `refined’ if necessary, but the large majority of costs are settled by negotiation, not by DA, and the huge amounts of time spent recording what you did and why you did it will in most cases have been totally wasted. That time can instead be spent on work that is (a) enjoyable; and (b) productive.

      If you’re claiming costs ALWAYS claim more than you expect to receive, though not to a ludicrous degree. Everyone else does it, so the paying party’s lawyers will start from the assumption that you’re doing so, and apply a blanket 30% reduction to allow for this. Consequently, if you only claim a fair amount you’ll end up with a lot less than a fair amount.

      Another advantage of exaggerating your claim is that it enables your opponent to crow to their client about getting a great result. If you claim a `fair’ £20k and can fully justify it you may end up with £17k, but if you claim £27k you are far more likely to end up with £20k.

      Your opponent doesn’t really care what you get, but in this example your opponent will be telling their client that your claim is definitely worth the £27k you’ve claimed, but through their brilliance they’ve slashed you down to £20k. Of course, their client hasn’t a clue one way or the other, and will be pleased with the result..

    5. Robert Askey, Barrister

      Robert Askey, Barrister

      Does the opponent have any money to pay not only the claim your client wants but also costs on top? Will that be so when the case ends? Does your client have money to pay you and if so when? Will the client’s ability to pay continue? If the client has/will have no money are you willing to gamble your time and skill, however long it goes on for, on the prospects of this case? If not can you sensibly advise a funder (including (haha) Legal Aid) to advance money on this cause to pay you? And if the opponent has no money and nor does the client, you aren’t willing to gamble, and you can’t find a funder is this the kind of cause you’d like your boss to support for free? Impecuniosity is a hard teacher, sterner with the ruler than any Costs Judge’s meanness.

    6. L Dunn, Solicitor

      L Dunn, Solicitor

      Say it how you like: “Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good”, “apply the Pareto principle”, “work on 80:20”

      This applies to so many things. We all get stressed, and we’re often overworked. Knowing when its “good enough” is vital. People can feel overburdened. You can’t do it all. You cannot read every judgment, even if you just restrict it to your practice area. But don’t let that stop you doing “something”. Often just doing “enough” is enough.

      David Alan Hughes ·

      (1) Think Costs. From Day 1, and not at the back-end of the claim! And if you’re not already doing this, change your thinking. Your business depends upon it.
      (2) Think Client. Keep them informed, and updated. There should be no surprises.
      (3) Think Court. Could you justify that behaviour or action to a Judge? If not, change your behaviour.

      Be principled, reasonable, and realistic.

      And keep written records of everything!

      David Laws

      David Laws

      Know and comply with the rules that govern how you earn your living
      This has two 2 dimensions
      1. the ethical rules which protect both your client and you
      2. the rules and case law which comprise the law of costs
      Finally – Don’t dabble – Your client had the intelligence to employ you as an expert – That’s a good lead to follow when it’s your right to receive remuneration, your reputation and practicing certificate that can be at risk