Divorce lawyer of the rich and famous ‘marked up bills by hundreds of thousands of pounds’

Last updated at 6:59 PM on 2nd October 2011

Britain’s highest-profile divorce lawyer appears to have billed her celebrity clients hundreds of thousands of pounds extra for work she did not record on time-sheets, it has emerged.

Fiona Shackleton, who charges £550 an hour for her legal services, appears to have added a six-figure sum to both Madonna and Sir Paul McCartney’s divorce bills, in a column titled ‘mark up’ on time-sheets seen by The Daily Telegraph.

One bill for £14,000 for work on Sir Paul’s divorce from Heather Mills in 2008, shows a ‘mark up’ to £150,000, according to the paper.

Another bill for £85,176.84 for work on Madonna’s divorce from Guy Ritchie in 2008, shows a ‘mark up’ of £100,000 – £75,000 of which had come from work carried out by Baroness Shackleton.

Lady Shackleton’s law firm, Payne Hicks Beach, was subject to investigation by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority in 2009, according to the Telegraph.

In meeting minutes seen by the paper, the authority asked Lady Shackleton, who is also Princes William and Harry’s solicitor, about the practice of marking up and if there was a ‘scientific’ basis for calculating the amounts.

The solicitor told the authority the ‘mark ups’ were added to her clients’ bills as a lump sum to make up for the ‘huge amount’ of time spent on every case, which was never recorded.

She was, she said, available ’24 hours a day, 52 weeks of the year’ to her clients but admitted being ‘slack with time sheets,’ according to The Telegraph.

However, the investigation was closed within a year without any sanctions being ordered by the authority.

Both McCartney and Madonna have confirmed they were satisfied with Lady Shackleton’s work and billing.

But, according to emails obtained by The Telegraph, Madonna’s business manager did request a ‘breakdown of the hours’ for the work but was told the firm didn’t ‘usually provide’ a breakdown.

In one correspondence, Lady Shackleton appears to be relieved when the pop star agreed to the £221,000 bill.

In an email to a colleague she wrote: ‘This is good news as I was worried that they were cross about the bill. We obviously shd (sic) have asked for more?!!!!! F x.’

Payne Hicks Beach said the email was intended to be a joke and hit back at the claims.

‘We are satisfied that the bills rendered were fair and reasonable for the work in fact done,’ a spokesman for the firm told The Telegraph.

‘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,’ they added.

Legal ombudsman, Alan Sampson, did not comment on The Telegraph’s findings, but said he has opened thousands of investigations into allegations of law firms overbilling their clients since his appointment a year ago.

He added the billing systems used by law firms were in desperate need of reform.

‘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.

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