Costs lawyers highlight “arbitrary” nature of budgeting

Stark: budgeting has at times shown its value

Stark: budgeting has at times shown its value

The extent to which the costs management regime is working very much depends on which judge you are before, according to a survey of members of the Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL).

They also suggested that efforts to create a new electronic bill of costs could founder against the apathy of solicitors.

The annual survey – which received 128 responses, more than a fifth of the membership – asked ACL members how the costs management regime was working, and “It depends on which judge you’re before” was the most popular answer, followed by a recognition that it has brought costs lawyers’ skills to the fore.

Costs lawyers also felt that “solicitors think they can do it – and they’re wrong”, while the sense persists from previous surveys that budgeting has added a layer of work and cost for no benefit.

Asked about the new format bill of costs and the associated J-Codes, views were mixed. A third (32%) agreed that “however good they are, solicitors aren’t interested”, and there was an acknowledgement that the courts would have to take a hard line to make them work.

While a quarter believed they would actually make things worse. 20% saw the new bill as a good idea, although more work was needed to make it fit for purpose.

The survey identified the government reform agenda – such as wider use of fixed costs – as the main threat to the costs lawyer profession, but for most, the current environment was a good one, with 64% either maintaining or increasing work levels from the previous year. Some 11% of costs lawyers said they had taken on more advocacy, while in-house costs roles at law firms were seen as offering the best job security.

ACL chairman Iain Stark, who recently took over for his second spell at the head of the association, said: “Costs management is now in its third year now and has at times shown its value; however, judicial inconsistency and some solicitors continuing not to pay heed to the rules – particularly around updating budgets – means that it has not yet achieved what it was supposed to.

“It is in the entire legal profession’s interests to make costs management work, or otherwise face the prospect of having far more arbitrary fixed costs imposed from above for large swathes of cases. The new bill of costs, if properly implemented, could help with this process. We see costs lawyers as playing a pivotal role in both of these projects and the ACL will be front and centre of the debate.”

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