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'Costs professionals are the new legal polymaths,' says ACL chief

Will become 'an integral part of litigation teams in the near future'

15 July 2015

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Demand for costs budgeting has increased 'significantly' over the past year, according to new UK market research.

The annual survey of the Association of Costs Lawyers' (ACL) members found that more than half of respondents have been growing and diversifying their practices.

"I believe that costs professionals are the new legal polymaths. The Jackson reforms have changed the role of the costs lawyer, but our core skills give us everything we need to adapt," the ACL's chair, Sue Nash, told Managing Partner.

"Costs lawyers have an unrivalled opportunity to capitalise upon their expertise in legal project and legal practice management, costs auditing, WIP valuation and costs ADR, amongst other things, to ensure their future."

She continued: "The profession has developed greatly in recent times and costs lawyers will, I believe, become an integral part of litigation teams in the near future as solicitors, barristers and costs lawyers work together to progress proceedings in an efficient and proportionate manner."

The survey, which received 58 responses, found that 53 per cent of costs lawyers have experienced a 'significant' increase in demand for costs budgeting advice in the past year. A further 28 per cent said demand had increased 'slightly'. Similar rises were experienced in previous years.

Three quarters of respondents said they expect even more instructions over the next 12 months.

Nearly half (45 per cent) expect the number of costs lawyers to increase in the next three years. A quarter said they are looking to recruit a trainee in the coming year.

The research found that costs lawyers have been increasingly using their specialist skills to diversify into related areas of legal practice.

Fifty-five per cent said they have grown their practices by taking on more staff, increasing sales and marketing activity, undertaking more advocacy and diversifying.

Alternative dispute resolution, work-in-progress valuations and legal project management have become key areas of focus for many costs lawyers.

The increase in demand for budgeting, together with more fixed fees in fast-track personal injury (PI) work has caused the nature of costs lawyers' practices to change.

Multi-track work made up 60 per cent of the average firm's caseload (up from 52 per cent last year), while fast-track PI fell from 22 per cent to 13 per cent.

Asked how budgeting was working, 60 per cent of respondents said it had brought their skills to the fore.

Some 52 per cent noted that it depended which judge they were before - reflecting concerns expressed by the ACL and others that judicial inconsistency is undermining the regime.

A similar number (53 per cent) agreed with the statement 'solicitors think they can do it - and they're wrong'.

The proportion who felt that solicitors are in denial or are unaware of the demands of costs budgeting fell slightly from 43 per cent last year to 36 per cent.

However, costs lawyers remain concerned about the impact of the Jackson reforms.

Two fifths said the reforms have discouraged solicitors from taking on less straightforward cases. Just under a third said they have tilted the playing field in favour of defendants.

"The Jackson reforms have ushered in a new era for costs lawyers - one where they play a critical role in managing costs from the start of a case to the end," said Nash.

"It is satisfying to see how many are looking to spread their wings into other areas where their skills and experience - which cover far more than their core costs drafting role - can offer real value to solicitors, their clients and others."

She continued: "The survey results also showed that the costs management regime is far from perfect.

"The ACL's budgeting working party recently submitted a report to the Civil Procedure Rule Committee outlining where we believe that improvements can be made and we will continue our efforts to make the system work."

The ACL is a membership body representing and promoting the interests of costs lawyers in England and Wales.




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