Legal Cost Specialists

How many law costs draftsmen are there?

How many people work in the field of legal costs?

Let us ignore from the figures the army of support staff such as secretaries and IT experts, legal costs recruiters, those journalists and publishers who deal with costs publications, specialist costs counsel and even members of the judiciary.

(I should warn junior readers that ignoring members of the judiciary when in court is best avoided. I did try this once during a detailed assessment hearing and you can’t begin to imagine how irate the costs judge eventually became. You wouldn’t expect to hear that kind of language from a sailor.)

How many actual “fee earners” work in a full time or part time capacity in costs? How would one even begin to establish this number?

If memory serves me right, the Association of Law Costs Draftsmen, as it then was, did try to undertake a similar task. I’ve no idea what the results were but the problem is trying to know whether the results are even remotely accurate. The membership of the Association can be readily identified but there is little doubt that only a relatively small proportion of those who work in costs are members.

How many in-house costs draftsmen work for solicitors? So far as I know, the Law Society keeps no such data. One would have to write to every firm in the country to find out and get an accurate response from each. If, say, 20% responded (and it would be very surprising to get such a high return from a voluntary survey) there would be no way of knowing how representative this was. There are, probably, a growing number of costs staff working in-house for solicitors due to the growth of some specialist costs firms and some major defendant panel solicitors now dealing with “volume” costs work, in place of some of the costs negotiating firms who previously handled such work. I am also ignoring the large number of solicitors who deal with costs in their own cases, at least part of the time. Although these are obviously not costs draftsmen, the work they undertake probably equates to the work of 100’s of full time costs draftsman.

How may costs draftsmen work in-house for insurers and loss adjusters? This would be an even more daunting and probably impossible question to answer. Again, many claims staff will deal with costs on their own cases, at least in some cases.

How many costs staff work for the volume “costs negotiators”. The distinction between traditional law costs draftsmen and legal costs negotiators has always been a largely superficial one, with the nature of the work being undertaken often being virtually indistinguishable. Although the numbers post-predictable costs, are no doubt much smaller than in the past, the numbers remain significant and only a small number appear to be members of the Association of Costs Lawyer.

Then, how many independent costs draftsmen are there who are not members? How does one even begin to discover this? It is a relatively simply task to contact ACL members and try to discover how many non-members work with them or for them. But what about others? Barely a week goes by when I do not come across a new costs draftsman my firm has not previously dealt with. Many of these fall into the one man band category and have no web presence of any kind. Unless and until one finds oneself dealing with them, they are publically invisible.

When I come across a costs firm I have not previously dealt with I will often check their website, if they have one. I am regularly surprised by the number of firms I have never dealt with who appear to have a not insignificant number of fee earners. Often with few, if any, who are ACL members.

Try a Google search for “costs draftsman” or “law costs draftsman” and explore the outer reaches – page 10 and onwards. Then try the same with Bing and see the entirely new names that appear.

The reason I raise the question of how many people work in the field of legal costs is because of the issue of the extent to which the ACL is representative of the industry. This has always been one of the problems the Association has faced. When the numbers are limited, it faces the accusation of not being truly representative. When it has tried to “solve” the problem by providing alternative routes into membership (such as by interview) it then faces the criticism of dumbing down just to boost numbers. Without protected body status it faces the problem of persuading non-members to join. Without representing the wider industry it will struggle to attain protected body status precisely because of the fact that it is not fully representative. Catch 22.

I was in the middle of writing this post when the latest issue of Costs Lawyer magazine landed on my doormat. (The highlight of my social life.) This mentioned:

“The Association is also launching a major recruitment drive to bring onboard more of the 5,000 people working as unqualified and unregulated costs draftsmen”

Although I would have to suggest that the figure of 5,000 given is entirely speculative, to be fair it does not look entirely unrealistic.

This is against an ACL membership of 764 as of 31 December 2009, with rumours that the numbers are dropping.

Assuming the ACL’s guesstimate of the numbers of non-members is accurate, the Association is a long way from being truly representative.

So, beyond the section 27 and 28 rights that Costs Lawyers have, what does the ACL have to work with to start attracting further members?

1. The ACL has established a comprehensive training programme for students. The Association is incredibly fortunate to have Murray Heining as Educational Development Office. From time-to-time I am approached via the Legal Costs Blog for advice as to how to start a career in costs and I never hesitate in pointing them in the direction of the Association’s Modular Training Course.

2. The monthly Costs Lawyer magazine. I’ve no idea how Editor Neil Rose manages to find so much interesting content each month. (And I’m not just talking about the occasional article that I write.)

3. The Members’ Forum run by Jon Williams. The main part of this on-line discussion forum allows members to post and respond to technical costs queries. Barely a day goes by where a post doesn’t appear that is the intellectual equivalent of a fiendish sudoku or Times Cryptic Crossword puzzle. And one then gets to see the enlightening responses, some from the intellectual heavyweights of the Association. Access to this alone is arguably worth the price of membership.

4. The discounts that the Association has secured for members. The Lawtel discount, compared to the shocking amounts they usually try to charge, means membership virtually pays for itself. Discounts are also secured for costs training conferences including a 50% discount for most CLT conferences.

5. Oh, and you get a diary.

Not a bad platform to build from.

17 thoughts on “How many law costs draftsmen are there?”

  1. The five benefits you listed (okay, maybe not the diary) are why I originally joined the ALCD.

    The forum is probably worth the original member fee on it’s own and I understand the course is significantly more ‘current’ and complete than when I joined in approx. 2005. Judge the adequacy of the advocacy training all you like, but the current course material provides a solid, basic, understanding of the law (especially for those with a non-legal schooling background; like me).

    I’m no longer a member of the ACL (as of the start of this year)having passed the Costs Lawyer course in Nov 2010. The decision not to renew is primarily related to a +225% increase in fees for all non-student members (which is to be understood as ‘all who have passed the written exam’), because they have all been elevated to the status of Costs Lawyer or Costs Lawyer in waiting(pre-costs lawyer course). The clear problem for me as an employer of a solicitor is that I don’t need the Costs Lawyer badge and subsidising the Costs Lawyers is pricey.

    I suppose that the success of a recruitment drive will prove the new system. Maybe these elusive non-ALCD draftsman, upon joining, will accept the fees with no complaint having no knowledge of the previous system.

    Mr Gibbs, I wish you luck with the council elections and plans to revert the various membership levels to those recently removed.

  2. Of the 5,000 I anticipate there are a significant number of transients, who do not do the job long enough to consider joining the ACL.

  3. I’ve been a Costs Draftsman for almost 20 years, 15 of those as a one man band. When I first went out on my own, being a sole ‘practitioner’ and not working under a Solicitor or member of the ALCD, I was precluded from joining. I believe the rules have now changed, but why would I want to join as a student member (I think that’s the only option), and use money that I’ll probably need to do something else with in the not too distant future on membership and course fees?

  4. TJ,

    Entry to the Association was possible via the Fellowship examination route. You just sat the exam and, if successful, went straight in at Fellowship level. That is the route I took. Strangely, the October 2010 edition of Costs Lawyer magazine announced the end to that route and that all future joiners would have to complete the training course. That was arguably a strange decision and is certainly going to make any new recruitment drive difficult amongst established costs draftsmen. The cost of the course is something in the region of £3,000.

    I’m all for ensuring standards (my constant refrain) but to insist that the 90% of costs draftsmen (according to ACL figures) who are outside the Association must henceforth all be treated as students if they want to join is odd. Especially when there remain question marks over standards amongst those already inside.

  5. in the above two comments, the whole problem with the ALCD is exposed.

    Having been in costs myself for 20 years, I have seen the ALCD move the goalposts so many times to suit themselves. When they need the numbers, they abandon their own rules and allow Fellowship by (originally) interview, and then bypassing the course to allow just sitting the exam as sufficient.

    When they want to change their status, they allow cost lawyers by attendance at a course – no requirement to pass anything at all!

    Then they conveniently abandon the exam altogether for Associates, and make everyone up to Fellow, pending attending the Cost Lawyer course, which is now shortened to 1 day

    And now, having moved the goalposts to get how they want it for themselves, they push the boundaries back again and insist everyone joining does the full study course, and pay the fee.

    It strikes me, that the ALCD (or ACL as I believe they now are), are not representative at all of the majority of costs professionals, and that perhaps the time is right for a seperate organisation whom are – Mr Gibbs, over to you!

  6. What many if not all those commenting seem to overlook is that the ACL is a relatively young organisation.

    During the time of its existence there have been many changes in the Rules of Court, the area of costs itself has changed dramatically to the extent that there are now a large number of Counsel who specialise in costs and there are various Counsel’s chambers which have teams of costs counsel, not merely one or two with an interest in the subject.

    In the past the majority of law costs draftsmen worked from home, some of them at the kitchen table in the evening, and many saw their job as no more than producing a bill of costs. It was extra income for those who worked as legal executives/paralegals in the day or were married women who could not work full time.

    Few attended what were then called taxations and left it to others, possibly their instructing solicitor, to defend the bill in Court.

    The requirement now is for professional law costs draftsmen with a wide range of experience and abilities. The Association of Costs Lawyers has evolved to meet the needs of the legal profession and its members.

    Instead of criticising the Association publicly and thus potentially doing the profession a great deal of harm those who do so would be better occupied in putting their support behind it and involving themselves in the evolution.

    Suggesting that the critics should create a breakaway movement will only fracture the profession at a time when solidarity should be at the forefront of people’s minds.

    It is naive to suppose that a breakaway movement will better represent the profession than the existing Association of Costs Lawyers.

  7. I agree that talk of a breakaway movement is undesirable (if not necessarily entirely naive given the numbers currently outside the Association). It must be preferable to build on the existing ACL rather than start afresh.

    The Association has certainly evolved over the years. Whether it has always met the needs of the legal profession and its members in the process is at the heart of the debate.

    Some of the comments on the Blog suggest that there are those outside the Association who want to be part of that debate and might be interested in joining a more flexible organisation.

    The interesting point about DJ Hill’s recent article about rights of audience for costs draftsmen is that if he is correct (which I question) it is likely to mean a sudden influx of a large number of new members. Once they achieve voting rights within the Association, it may well be them who get to determine its future, rather than those currently within. Do the maths.

  8. It is to be hoped that those currently outside the Association do apply for membership. It can only be to the benefit of the whole profession for the Association to be representative of all shades of opinion and if the ‘new members’ determine its future so be it. That is democracy.

    However, it behoves those who are currently members but are questioning the way that the Association is evolving to remember that the Officers of the Association are at present engaged in carrying out the wishes of those who have voted for such changes as is evidenced, for example, by the overwhelming vote at the AGM in 2010.

    They had an opportunity to put their point of view but either did not do so or failed to win over the membership at that time.

  9. One wonders if the ACL may have burnt their bridges by abolishing the examination / interview routes) to fellowship & insisting that all new members start from scratch (regardless of their qualifications & experience).

    If DJ Hill is right, & the ACL insist that everyone starts from scratch, one would have thought that the more seasoned costs professionals are likely to look for alternative routes to obtain rights of audience i.e. via ILEX / going in-house / employing a token solicitor within their firm, as they would not be able to gain ‘rights of audience’ via membership of the ACL for several years.

    One also has to wonder how Costs Officers in the SCCO (who may not be members of the ACL) would react to the suggestion that only costs lawyers are fit to appear in that Court – as this could possibly be interpreted as suggesting that, by analogy, they were unfit to adjudicate ?

    One also has to wonder if the ACL is possibly overlooking the fact that the current trend would appear to be to allow wider access to the Courts i.e. Tesco Law &, that it is only as a direct result of this trend / policy, that the ACL came to be in a position to grant rights of audience, to its members, in the 1st instance.

    One also wonders if this is all going to be a somewhat short-lived flash-in-the-pan, like the arguments surrounding the issues of of Champerty & Maintenance a few years ago. Afterall, most solicitor / insurer client’s will not thank their Cost Lawyers for going along to a DA Hearing – only to get the matter adjourned & re-listed several months down the line.

    Finally, one wonders if this may all become a something of a moot point, if the provisional assessment pilot scheme (currently operating in Leeds, York & Scarborough) takes off &/or the MOJ implement the recommendation within the Jackson report & expand the ambit of the predictive costs regime.

  10. Simon,

    We all know you have been VERY critical of the training standards etc in recent times and some of your aims as a potential council member are to reintroduce different categories of membership, upgrade training etc etc….

    How does reintroducing these different tiers and/or allowing entry-by-exam (the old direct fellow route) sit alongside the need to ensure standards for Costs Lawyers?

    There are many draftsmen who have spent twenty years ‘practising’ in small areas of law (eg the family legal aid only draftsmen) who have not been legally trained, have little (if any) understanding/experience of advocacy, do not generally engage with case-law etc. All of which I consider fundamental knowledge/skills as a Lawyer.

    You are one the first to criticise the current training regime, but now appear to be happy to allow entrants via a direct-exam as long as they are just ‘Fellows’??

    Nobody can short-cut the qualification route to be a solicitor on the basis that they have been an unqualified paralegal for twenty years!

    I think the old days of direct-exams, interview admissions and amnesties etc are a smear on the association’s history and have hopefully dies a death with the ALCD. The new breed of Costs Lawyers should be subject to proper training (including the fundamentals) and that means humility needs to be exhibited and some time and money expended.

  11. I am one of those “20 years practising” draftsmen. I have no legal training, but I do lecture to Solicitors and FILEX as to how to deal with costs, and their cases. I prepare bills of every funding type, in every court possible. I deal with Applications, Statements, Hearings and advising on Appeals. I act for both Claimants and Defendants. In doing so, I routinely come across shoddy bills, PODs and Replies, and poor advocacy on DA
    I am not in the Association – I declined to join when they decided to let the “old boys” join as Fellows by interview.
    why I should be prejudiced against by the ACL changing its rules to suit again?

  12. I hope you contribute to the latest thread Anonymous; the association – and those of us who hope to help shape it in the future – is keen to widen the debate, and the membership (whilst of course ensuring robust standards).

    Decisions taken in the past may or may not have been mistaken (like most things it will probably depend on your perpective) but what I suggest we should all be doing is looking forward. The association HAS succeeded in raising the profile and standing of the costs profession and has provided a good platform to build on. Let’s use this opportunity to come together and work together (and apologies if that sounds rather too much like an election ‘stump speech’!)

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  14. £3,000 is a lot of money…if this wasn’t necessary before, why is it necessary now? I spent 2003 successfully doing PODs, even now have fun when I get the chance to do them! I am currently struggling to rejoin the profession, and am fed up of coming up against costs firms employing kids who don’t know what they are talking about – will the £3,000 stop this?

    Lee Williams

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