Some people use the term “total legal expenses” to stand for what I refer to as “total legal spending.” I define total legal spending as the sum of a law department’s internal expenditures and what it pays outside counsel and other vendors (See my post of Aug. 21, 2008: total legal spending as a percentage of revenue with 9 references and one metapost.).
A broader term, “total legal costs,” encompasses not only what I refer to as total legal spending but also resolution payments such as fines, judgments and settlements.
The terminological difference seems logical to me. “Spending” suggests some degree of discretion and management; “cost” sounds like it extends to impositions and requirements. For that reason, with these definitions in mind, I will try to use “total legal costs” as the term for everything a company pays out that are law-related.