The Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) has launched an alternative dispute resolution panel which it said aims to give solicitors and their clients another option when dealing with costs disputes.
The former Senior Costs Judge, Peter Hurst, and three costs lawyers are among the group of eight mediators to offer what is believed to be the first dedicated costs ADR service.
The service initially offers telephone and face-to-face mediation and will be expanded to include early neutral evaluation, arbitration, and multi-case mediation.
For lower-value disputes, the service offers two-hour telephone mediations. The mediator ‘shuttles’ between the parties, making private calls, and can also host a joint teleconference as and when appropriate. Face-to-face mediation – lasting either three hours or the whole day – is suitable for higher-value cases and all solicitor and own client disputes.
The panel has been put together with the help of well-known mediators Philip Hesketh and Tim Wallis. They are on the panel along with Mr Hurst, costs lawyers Claire Green, Alison Speight and Donal Moran, Brian Dawson – senior partner of solicitors Walker Smith & Way – and Frances McCarthy, former president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers.
ACL chairman Sue Nash said: “Despite the steady growth of ADR in recent years, its application to costs disputes has generally been overlooked. As an organisation and a profession we strive to reduce the pain of costs disputes as much as we can, and ADR can play a central role in that. We are pleased to have put together such an expert panel to launch this initiative, and hope that many more Costs Lawyers will feature on it in time as they go through the training programmes we are organising.”
She stressed that there are many positive reasons to engage in costs ADR: “There is, of course, the stick of costs sanctions for failing to engage in ADR, which is becoming more and more prevalent. More positively, though, there are commercial benefits to using mediation and other forms of ADR to settle costs claims.
“It can improve key performance indicators such as reducing claim life cycles and the legal costs of settlement. It can free time to spend on routine matters to help meet performance standards. It can improve cash flow by earlier conversion of work in progress to cash.”
Mr Hesketh added: “I have long been an advocate of mediating costs disputes. At the end of nearly every mediation I do, we mediate the costs successfully. There is no reason why costs lawyers and their clients should not make more use of mediation.”
Other services planned for the future include mediation observerships – allowing newly qualified mediators or mediators seeking to meet CPD requirements – to observe costs mediations, and mediation information and assessment meetings – a telephone conference hosted by a panel mediator at which the parties’ representatives discuss the suitability of a costs dispute for any of the available ADR services.