The recent decision of Lord Dyson to allow Costs Lawyers to potentially qualify as Grade C or Grade B fee earners raises an interesting issue.
What level of qualification and training is required for a Costs Lawyer to now potentially be classified as a Grade C fee earner?
A typical solicitor will have stayed at school until age 18, then undertaken a 3 year law degree, followed by a 1 year LPC full time course and then undertaken a two year training contract. At that stage they will be entitled to call themselves a Grade C fee earner. This is, post-age 16, a combination of 8 years full time education and training. During the 6 years of education they will have lost potential earnings. During the 4 years of a law degree and LPC will have incurred significant tuition fees. (For those undertaking a non-law degree there will be the further delay and cost of the CPE.) It is unlikely that Grade C status would be reached before the age of 24.
In contrast, the minimum academic qualifications to start the Costs Lawyer course is 4 GCSEs at grade C or above, English and Maths being compulsory. (Even this can be avoided if an aptitude test is passed.) The minimum age to start the course is 18. The Costs Lawyer course is designed to be undertaken whilst students are in full time employment. Although the course is no doubt demanding, it appears students are only required to attend a single compulsory seminar each year. To achieve Costs Lawyer status at least three years of relevant experience in costs law and practice is required before, during or after study for the Costs Lawyer qualification. The current cost of the course is a very modest £1,400 plus VAT per year. It is therefore possible to become a Grade C fee earner having left school at 16 and worked in a non-legal environment until the age of 18 and then undertaken the Costs Lawyer course over the next 3 years whilst working for a costs firm. It would be possible to attain Grade C status by the age of 21 whilst earning consistently since age 16 and for a fraction of the financial commitment of training to become a solicitor. Many Costs Lawyers earn just as much, and often much more, than a large proportion of the solicitor profession.
Of course, not all Costs Lawyer students will have such a “basic” entry level background. Many will have been law costs draftsmen for many years previously. Many will have undertaken a law degree and the LPC or BVC. Nevertheless, this does offer a surprisingly streamlined, and cheap, route to Grade C status.