Book review: ‘The Legal Extortion Racket’
Tony Guise provides a review of ‘the autobiography of an idea’*
Jim Diamond is one of this country’s best known costs lawyers. Over many years, he has practised his profession and preached his views about how to improve the presentation and production of costs information, to the benefit of clients and lawyers alike. His resolute advocacy of what has often seemed a forlorn cause won him praise and condemnation in equal measure. I feel privileged to count him as a friend, to have been at his side during many of the battles he has fought – and to have been present at some of the events recounted in his autobiography – and it is an honour to write this review.
This book is a rarity amongst books about the law and lawyers. Cleverly combining must-read anecdotes, the author deftly deploys experience from real life with learning about costs law that should be read by students of the law, clients, solicitors, costs lawyers and costs Counsel alike.
The history of costs
From his early beginnings carrying bags of coal in 1960s Liverpool, to the infamous long lunches of the 80s, expensive bottles of wine and Sunday League football club (and how he founded one) we read how the practice of billing clients has changed over the years – and how, perhaps, it isn’t that much different.
Through wry asides and incredible turns of events, there is a singular recognition – an identification if you like, of the main purpose – which is to remedy: “the two most important failures of the UK commercial legal world are the lack of transparency and the failure to supply detailed budgets on cases at an early stage of instructions and throughout the matter.”
This is a book about that idea, a book about change and changes.
Have you heard the one about the judge, the academic, the costs draftsman and the practitioner? It goes like this: In the early years of this century, District Judge Chris Lethem (as he was then), Professor John Peysner, Jim Diamond and I had the idea that the best way to show the value of legal services to clients was to provide a budget.
John Peysner drew comparison with estimating the costs of a construction project. His Honour Judge Lethem (as he is now) began requiring costs budgets in cases coming before him in Tunbridge Wells County Court. In 2003, I founded a firm dedicated to the proposition that total transparency of hourly rates and a budget in every case could not only attract clients – but would drive up profits, which it did. Diamond approached the challenge from a costs draftsman’s perspective – and went further developing the first costs software to calculate the costs of cases. Ground-breaking stuff, for its time…
Compulsory costs budgeting
The campaign was finally won in April 2016, when compulsory costs budgeting was introduced in England and Wales. Yet, despite the passage of six years, costs budgeting continues to excite controversy.
My article in this Journal, ‘Anyone for Marmite?’ (Solicitors Journal, vol. 160, no.10, p. 33) describes the heat generated at a Civil Justice Council conference in July 2022 considering abolition or revision! I am pleased to report, on a show of hands, the vast majority of conference delegates were in favour of revision, not abolition. Perhaps that is the true measure of the scale of Diamond’s success – and the result of the labours of the four of us over 20 years.
Adventures of a lifetime
Diamond’s work – and this book – ranges far and wide, taking him from Liverpool to London, St Helier in Jersey, Paris, Glasgow and Edinburgh – with plenty of other places in between.
I could write about the author’s work with the Centre for Policy Studies, the Competition and Markets Authority, his 20-year history of compiling the Diamond Hourly Rate Survey and how his career in international level competitive karate came in handy defusing an aggressive partner at a well-known City firm – but space precludes doing justice, in this brief review, to his other passions: football (Everton FC), sports photography and his family. No spoilers – but there are but plenty of reasons to read the book!
This is a wonderful autobiography of a man and his idea – his relentless pursuit of which is much to his credit. This idea has benefitted thousands of clients and lawyers alike over the few years it has been compulsory – and will benefit many hundreds of thousands more in years yet to come.
* Thanks to Louis H. Sullivan, the renowned US architect, for the sub-title of this review
Tony Guise is the director of DisputesEfiling.com, a provider of online dispute management platforms, and for the past 28 years has been a leading campaigner for civil justice reform: Twitter: @CloudArbitrator; linkedin.com/in/tonyguise. ‘The Legal Extortion Racket’ by Jim Diamond is published by Grosvenor House Publishing and available now.