A senior U.K. judge has criticised Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton for charging excessively high fees in a dispute between two electronics majors.
The judge in turn cut the firm’s bill by nearly a quarter.
In a judgment handed down remotely on April 6, 2022, Court of Appeal judge Lord Justice Males slammed the U.S.-headquartered firm for charging rates of £1,131.75 an hour while advising electronics giant LG.
The judge stated there was “no justification at all” for such inflated billings that were “substantially in excess of the guideline rates”.
The firm, which was successful, submitted a schedule claiming costs of £72,818.21 for the one-day appeal.
The firm billed in U.S. dollars, which, after conversion, is equivalent to hourly charges of between £801.40 and £1,131.75 for Grade A fee earners and between £443.27 and £704 for Grade C fee earners.
The unsuccessful appellant Samsung, instructed by Covington & Burling, argued this was well above the hourly rates set out in fee guidelines, which state that the rates that apply to “very heavy commercial and corporate work by centrally based London firms” are £512 for Grade A and £270 for Grade C.
Lord Justice Males noted: “In some cases, therefore, the rates claimed are more than double the guideline rates.”
The proceedings in the Court of Appeal – the U.K.’s second highest court – are the latest in an ongoing dispute in which Samsung claimed £900,000 from defendants LG following a settlement agreement it made with 41 English local authorities for alleged loss suffered from the EU liquid crystal display cartel.
Cleary has not attempted to justify its solicitors rates, but stated “that its hourly rates are above the guideline rates, but that is almost always the case in competition litigation”, according to the judgment.
“This was a one-day appeal, where the only issue was the appropriate forum for the trial, the documentation was not heavy, and the amount claimed (£900,000) was modest by the standards of commercial cases,” explained Lord Justice Males.
He decided that, on that basis, the amount claimed should be reduced to £55,000.
In 2021, a High Court judge concluded that the courts in Taiwan or Korea were a “more appropriate forum” for this dispute.
Cleary declined to comment.