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Judges hold key to costs management, say lawyers

Making costs management work is in the interests of the entire legal profession, says ACL chairman

1 July 2016

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The extent to which the costs management regime is working depends on which judge you face, according to a survey of the Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) members.

The annual survey, which received 128 responses, looked at how the costs management regime was working.

The regime was brought in as part of the Jackson reforms in 2013 to ensure courts assessed costs in civil litigation 'at a proportionate cost'.

From April changes to costs budgeting were introduced which reduced the burden on practitioners in claims up to £50,000 and exempted costs budgeting for claims involving children, among other amendments.

Asked about the latest changes and the associated J-Codes - to help judges calculate time and costs incurred through a case - respondents had mixed views. A third (32 per cent) agreed that 'however good they are, solicitors aren't interested', while there was an acknowledgement that the courts would have to take a hard line to make them work.

While a quarter believed they would actually make things worse, 20 per cent saw the new electronic bill of costs as a good idea, although more work was needed to make it fit for purpose.

The survey identified the government reform agenda - such as wider use of fixed costs - as the main threat to the costs lawyer profession, but for most, the current environment was a good one, with 64 per cent either maintaining or increasing work levels from the previous year.Notably, 11 per cent of costs lawyers said they had taken on more advocacy, while in-house costs roles at law firms were seen as offering the best job security.

ACL chairman Iain Stark, who recently took over for his second spell at the head of the association, said: 'Costs management is now in its third year now and has at times shown its value; however, judicial inconsistency and some solicitors continuing not to pay heed to the rules - particularly around updating budgets - means that it has not yet achieved what it was supposed to.

'It is in the entire legal profession's interests to make costs management work, or otherwise face the prospect of having far more arbitrary fixed costs imposed from above for large swathes of cases. The new bill of costs, if properly implemented, could help with this process. We see costs lawyers as playing a pivotal role in both of these projects and the ACL will be front and centre of the debate.'

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