Costs lawyers call for guidelines rates and judiciary recognition

Hutchinson: Exciting and interesting career

Costs lawyers have become a fundamental part of litigation teams and this needs to be recognised in the guideline hourly rates and with the ability to apply for judicial appointment, it has been argued.

Their role is “arguably more rewarding, more litigious, more demanding” than the solicitor’s role itself, a roundtable organised by ACL Training – the training arm of the Association of Costs Lawyers heard – was told, as costs experts were exposed to multiple legal specialisms as well as court advocacy.

The event was held following last year’s launch of the revamped Costs Lawyer Professional Qualification (CLPQ). Two cohorts of students have since begun the course.

“The reason we are so good is because we get to look at files day in and day out, and solicitors don’t,” said costs lawyer Owen Poole, who runs OP Costs Drafting in Kent.

“They work on their file, but they don’t see other people’s files. This is why being a Costs Lawyer is such a great profession, in that we get to see the good, the bad and the ugly. We get to see how to do things right, how to do things wrong. And we can transfer that knowledge to budgeting and pricing.”

ACL Training has been promoting the CLPQ as a career in itself as a result, and not just an area of law people come to part-way through their legal careers.

David Hughes, a director of KE Costs Lawyers in Liverpool and a leading advocate for how the profession can support social mobility, said: “Our job is to show people how we can be an alternative career to being a solicitor or a barrister.

“So if we create the noise and tell people that it is a viable profession, where you can have well-rounded skills, you can do everything, you’re not just pigeonholed into being in a research team or a drafting team or a negotiation team, that you can do everything if you want to, then I think that’s going to be attractive”.

But the roundtable identified ongoing challenges. One is having the guideline hourly rates recognise that Costs Lawyers can be grade A fee-earners – the rates specify them at grade B.

Glenn Newberry, head of costs and funding at international giant Eversheds Sutherland – who as a costs lawyer was able to become its first non-solicitor partner – said: “I manage and supervise and coach and train people who are solicitors, who are chartered legal executives, and they can recover grade A rates and I by definition can’t, which seems to make very little sense.”

Nicholas Northrop, head of costs, technical and development at Irwin Mitchell, added that the final piece of the puzzle was costs lawyers being able to apply for judicial posts, an ambition currently being pursued with government by the ACL and the regulator, the Costs Lawyer Standards Board.

“A lot of us have got very senior positions and high levels of skills and knowledge. but the icing on the cake will be recognition of what a costs lawyer offers by being a judge. That will bestow a great legacy to the next generation.”

ACLT chair Sarah Hutchinson said the CLPQ offered “a great opportunity for new people to join the profession, either directly from school or at a later stage. They want to develop their careers, but they don’t want to give up work. They want to earn and learn at the same time.

“We really want to send the message to the future professionals just what an exciting and interesting career it is and, particularly with the launch of our new programme, to say just how much more flexible and accessible the qualification is.”

The CLPQ is a two-year, part-time, online course that comprises a Diploma in Civil Practice, a Diploma in Costs Law and Practice and an Award in Costs Advocacy. Those with law degrees and other legal qualifications may be entitled to certain exemptions.

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