Student costs lawyer numbers stay strong

Stark: solicitors will need to bring in costs expertise from the start

New entrants to the costs world are recognising the importance of regulation and the need for specialist skills ahead of the introduction of the Jackson reforms, the Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) has claimed after the number of people choosing to train as a costs lawyer stayed strong this year.

It has also called on solicitors to appreciate the importance of using qualified costs professionals with the introduction of Jackson.

The ACL has received 108 applications to join its training programme this year, compared to 112 in 2011, which marked a massive jump from 65 in 2010.

Study leads ultimately to qualification as a costs lawyer, an authorised person under the Legal Services Act with independent rights of audience and to conduct litigation. Several costs lawyers are also now partners in legal disciplinary practices.

ACL chairman Iain Stark said there was growing recognition of the need for and benefits of regulation. It also ensured that clients have clear recourse in the event that something goes wrong.

He said: “As in every part of the legal world, working in costs demands high standards of education and professionalism, and I am pleased that so many people are recognising that the costs lawyer qualification is the way to achieve both. It is increasingly important for instructing solicitors to ensure that they are working with costs lawyers and not unqualified and unregulated costs draftsmen.”

Mr Stark added: “The Jackson reforms will put a far greater emphasis on dealing with costs pre-emptively rather than after the event. This means solicitors will need to bring in costs expertise from the start of a case to ensure that the budget they will have to submit to the court at an early stage is realistic and defensible.

“We have already seen in the costs management pilot schemes what can happen when a solicitor either does not engage in the process or gets it wrong – it can cost an awful lot of money. This is not an area where solicitors should either dabble or cut corners.

“Our research suggests that the Jackson reforms will also lead to a rise in the number of costs disputes between solicitor and their clients once the latter have to start paying out of their own damages. Solicitors will quite literally pay the price if they do not take preparation of their costs seriously.”

The ACL said the costs lawyer route to qualification also supports the social mobility agenda in the legal profession, as students need only a minimum of four GCSEs to begin the training – those who have completed law degrees or postgraduate legal education can gain exemptions from parts of the programme.