High fees at the High Court

Research in Motion may have won in the courts, but it needs to learn to rein in the lawyers.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The maker of the ubiquitous BlackBerry may be less than happy with the outcome of its patents battle with Visto. Research in Motion defeated its rival, but the judge refused to award it the full £5.2m costs – claiming its legal fees were ‘unnecessary and unreasonable’.

Now where did he get that idea from? Here’s a clue: Allen & Overy, which represented Research in Motion, clocked up the equivalent of nine years of man-hours on the trial, which lasted just five days. It gets worse. Two of the law firm’s associates managed to charge more than 4,540 hours over 15 months at a cost of nearly £2m. Both associates must have worked a solid 37-hour a week for the whole period – with no toilet- or tea-breaks. A further £1m was charged for trainees and paralegals to read through the background materials.

All of which meant Allen & Overy outspent Visto’s Taylor Wessing by five to one. Research In Motion should perhaps take some of the blame for this, having instructed the law firm to ‘leave no stone unturned’ in its defence. It should have known better: when dealing with lawyers, you really have to say what you mean.

It’s not the first time lawyers have been in the dock for their exorbitant charges. In a series of recent cases, High Court judges have expressed their disquiet about spiralling fees, prompting Tim Dutton, chairman of the Bar Council to speak out to earlier this year. He said that these should be read as ‘warning signs’ to lawyers about their billing practices.

And there’s a lesson here for business too. Keep a close eye on the billed hours, and the pounds will look after themselves.

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