The results also indicated that the impact of the Jackson reforms on access to justice has not been as bad as feared.
Nearly six in 10 respondents to the survey (59%) said the reforms have expanded their practices – more than double the number who predicted that would happen in last year’s survey – with half taking on new staff as a result.
Almost three-quarters of the 102 respondents (72%) said the demand for costs budgeting had increased ‘significantly’ in the past year, with 52% expecting more of the same over the next 12 months. Nearly half expected the number of costs lawyers to have increased in three years’ time.
Asked how the budgeting regime was working, two-thirds said it had brought costs lawyers’ skills to the fore. Some 45% replied that it depended which judge they were before, while 43% found that solicitors remain in denial or unaware of the demands.
Unsurprisingly, the reforms are changing the make-up of costs lawyers’ practices, with a greater focus on multi-track cases over the fast-track. Some 40% of costs lawyers have diversified into other areas, while a fifth are looking for mergers and/or acquisitions.
ACL chairman Sue Nash said: “The results vindicate what we have been saying for some time – that the skills of costs lawyers are a vital part of the mix if solicitors want to make the best of the budgeting regime. Our range of abilities makes us an integral part of the litigation team as solicitors, barristers and costs lawyers work together to progress proceedings in an efficient and proportionate manner.”
In 2013, 71% of costs lawyers predicted that the Jackson reforms would discourage solicitors from taking on less straightforward cases, and this year some 30% said it had actually happened.
Nearly half of respondents last year expected the reforms to discourage claimants from bringing claims and to tilt the playing field in favour of defendants, but the 2014 poll found that only 18% and 23% of costs lawyers respectively said they had had that effect.
Ms Nash added: “While the results show that the Jackson reforms have not damaged civil litigants’ access to justice as much as had been feared, they also emphasise that there is no room for complacency. It is clear that some claimants are being turned away from seeking justice, and it is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that the system adapts to ensure that all of those with a valid claim have the support to bring it.”