Sue Grabbit and Runne for divorces?!

Law and Order
The top divorce lawyer, her big name clients, and ‘marked up’ bills
Baroness Shackleton, Britain’s highest-profile divorce lawyer, has
increased the bills of celebrity clients beyond the time she recorded
having spent on their cases, The Daily

By Holly Watt, Andrew Hough and Heidi Blake

7:00AM BST 01 Oct 2011

Madonna and Sir Paul McCartney appear to have been charged hundreds of
thousands of pounds more than the hourly rate would have demanded,
documents show, a practice known as “marking up”.

The Conservative peer, who represented the Prince of Wales and the
Duke of York in their divorces and remains solicitor to Princes
William and Harry, appears to have charged her clients more than twice
as much as the rate for the actual number of hours she had recorded as
having spent on their cases, according to internal time sheets.

The sheets, seen by The Daily Telegraph appear to show that a
six-figure sum was added to bills of both Madonna and Sir Paul, as
well as at least seven other clients in a column headed ”mark up’’.

In one case a £14,000 bill for work on the former Beatle’s divorce
from Heather Mills shows a “mark up” to £150,000. Both Madonna and Sir
Paul have confirmed that they were happy with Lady Shackleton’s
representation and satisfied with the billing.

The disclosure will give rise to concerns about the transparency of
solicitors’ billing practices.
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Lady Shackleton’s law firm, Payne Hicks Beach, came under
investigation in 2009, but the Solicitors Regulatory Authority closed
the case less than a year later without ordering any sanctions.

The authority interviewed her about her practice of marking up bills
and asked her to explain if there was any “scientific” basis for
calculating the sums she added.

It was estimated that she had “marked up bills by £659,000 over a
period of time”, according to a note of a meeting between Lady
Shackleton and the authority.

The solicitor admitted being “slack with time sheets” and said she
added lump sums to her clients’ bills to make up for the “huge amount”
of unrecorded time she spent on every case.

The authority wrote to the law firm in January last year to confirm
that it had closed its investigation and “no further action” would be
taken.

This newspaper has seen a cache of documents that disclose the full
details of the firm’s billing practices.

Documents from the company’s internal billing system show that, as
well as charging a rate of £550 an hour, Lady Shackleton added large
sums of money to her clients’ bills under the “mark up” column.

In one example, a bill for work on Madonna’s divorce from Guy Ritchie
in December 2008 came to £85,176.84 when charged at the hourly rate.

But a “mark up” of £100,000 had been added, £75,000 of which had been
billed as work done by Lady Shackleton, while £25,000 was charged by
another partner.

Other documents show that Madonna’s business manager had requested a
“breakdown of the hours” and was told “we don’t usually provide a
breakdown”.

Lady Shackleton expressed relief when the singer agreed to pay the
£221,000 bill, which had been marked up.

In a private email to a colleague she wrote: “This is good news as I
was worried that they were cross about the bill,” she wrote, adding:
“We obviously shd have asked for more?!!!!! F x.”

Payne Hicks Beach said the email was a joke. “We would have thought it
is obvious that the internal email dated 15 December 2008 was intended
to be humorous, from its punctuation alone.” Last night a spokesman
for the law firm said all the clients had confirmed they were happy
with their bills.

“We are satisfied that the bills rendered were fair and reasonable for
the work in fact done,” he added.

“It should be obvious from the SRA’s conclusion that often
substantially more work can be done than is formally recorded at the
time.

”You are quite wrong to treat only the time which is formally
recorded as the time and the basis upon which a client can be properly
billed. In relation to clients, and in particular high profile ones
who are often out of the country and lead particularly busy lives,
extensive work on complex issues is done at anti-social hours and
under considerable pressure.”

Alan Sampson, the legal ombudsman, has said that he has opened
thousands of investigations into allegations of overbilling by
solicitors since being appointed legal watchdog in October last year.
He warned that the systems used by law firms to bill their clients are
in urgent need of reform although did not comment directly on the
disclosures about Lady Shackleton.

“People seem to be largely intimidated and in awe of their lawyers and
are uncomfortable about challenging them about their legal expenses,
which in some cases have increased for no good reason,” Mr Sampson
said.

Marc Gander, the founder of the Consumer Action Group, said many
consumers were being “kept in the dark” about what they were being
charged.

During her interview with the Solicitors Regulatory Authority in May
2009, Lady Shackleton told investigators that she marked up her bills
because she was available to her clients “24 hours a day, 52 weeks of
the year”.

Minutes of the meeting, seen by this newspaper, show that she admitted
being “slack with time sheets” and claimed that she often failed to
record “a huge amount of time” on her cases.