Costs Lawyer expansion or protection?
The Association of Costs Lawyers recently released the results of a survey of claimant personal injury lawyers indicating gloomy predictions for the implications of the Jackson costs reforms. 78% predicted that they would have less work after implementation. 62% of firms expected to make staff redundant as a direct consequence of the Jackson reforms, while 28% did not yet know. Only 10% said they were sure they would not make such redundancies.
When personal injury lawyers sneeze the costs profession tends to catch a cold. Even if the personal injury lawyers surveyed are incorrect as to the negative impact on their work volumes, other parts of the Jackson reforms, such as an extension of fixed fees and costs budgeting, will inevitably lead to a significant reduction in the amount of work available for Costs Lawyers and law costs draftsmen.
A recent press release from the Association of Costs Lawyers, commenting on the continuing high numbers of new students joining, highlighted the fact that “The Costs Lawyer route to qualification supports the social mobility agenda in the legal profession, as students need only a minimum of four GCSEs to begin the training”. What intrigued me about that aspect is that the Association’s President, Michael Bacon, commented in this month’s Costs Lawyer magazine on the “impressive level of qualifications that many of those applying for student membership this year have shown” and the suggestion that the Association should be trying to extend awareness of the profession to various universities and their students, with it being agreed in principle that a selection of universities would be visited to outline to them the role of the Costs Lawyer, what qualifications are required and the “attractiveness” of the profession as a viable alternative to either barrister or solicitor.
Although there is not exactly a conflict between the minimum academic qualifications required and the potential drive to encourage those with law degrees to enter the costs world, it does reveal a certain tension between the two.
I would be the first to recognise that there are many excellent Costs Lawyers and law costs draftsmen who may have limited academic qualifications, and in the past this was probably true for a high proportion of those practising. I would also be the first to say I would much rather have a bright employee with four GCSEs then a dim one with LPC or BVC qualifications (of which there are many). On the other hand, the costs world has changed unrecognisably in the last 15 years from when I first started. Costs law has become infinitely more complex and demanding. As the volume costs work begins to disappear post-Jackson, that trend will accelerate.
I have long questioned whether a significant number currently working in costs are really intellectually or academically suited to the same. I won’t rehash the whole issue of Costs Lawyer standards, but it seems perfectly arguable that some of those in the profession probably shouldn’t be and that there are other young bright law students who would be much better suited for the future.
These various different topics appear to come together. If it is accepted that the post-Jackson world is going to lead to much less costs work it must also follow that many currently working in costs will not do so in the future. If the Association of Costs Lawyers role is now a purely representative one should it be seeking to encourage new, and possibly better qualified, entrants into the profession who will be competing with existing Costs Lawyers? Or is its role to protect existing members regardless of their suitability for the future or what is in the best interests of clients, in which case should it be discouraging new entrants into the profession?