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Costs lawyers: what do they do and how do you become one?

updated on 19 August 2014

The profession of costs lawyer has evolved from the previous area of practice, known as a law costs draftsman. While both can be instructed to undertake work as described below, only costs lawyers are now authorised to undertake reserved legal activities (ie, conduct litigation, appear in court and swear oaths) and are regulated. This means that as well as adhering to a code of conduct, costs lawyers have to undertake continuing professional development and carry professional indemnity insurance.

A costs lawyer (or law costs draftsman) is a specialist lawyer who deals with all aspects of legal costs. The principle of costs shifting, or recovery of legal costs in litigation, has been practiced for centuries with records stretching back to the times of William the Conqueror. Costs lawyers will often be employed in situations where there is a need to recover costs between the parties in litigation (ie, detailed assessment), either by justifying the costs or seeking to reduce the costs claimed against a party. In addition, recent changes to the law have required the court to exercise powers to manage both the case and the costs of the litigation prospectively and the preparation of costs budgets in litigation is recommended as being undertaken by costs lawyers.

Costs lawyers are also instructed to assist in ensuring that clients are properly charged for their solicitor's work, either informally or where a dispute has arisen under the Solicitors Act 1974. Legal costs are a specialist area of the law where the expert assistance provided by a costs lawyer is recognised, and in some instances deemed a necessity, by the judiciary and solicitors. Finally, costs lawyers can be instructed to prepare claims for costs where a party is the recipient of legal aid.

Costs lawyers tend to work either externally from their solicitor clients (in sole practice or within a legal costing firm) or in house for a law firm. The work undertaken by a costs lawyer is both chargeable to a client and recoverable in principle within the litigation, either as costs of action or as costs within the detailed assessment process. As such, a costs lawyer is a fee earner in the same way as any solicitor and the work undertaken by him/her can be just as important and rewarding.

Becoming a costs lawyer has the benefit of a career that is within the law, but that also encompasses detailed financial analysis, with equal importance on both considerations. The process of detailed assessment is often described as "pure litigation", in that quantum considerations are all that are in issue, unlike the underlying litigation where other factors will influence the parties’ approach to the litigation.

Costs lawyers are represented by both the Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL), which provides support, training and education, and the Costs Lawyer Standards Board (CLSB), which regulates the profession. Costs draftsmen are an unregulated section of the profession.

The formal training provided to become a costs lawyer is usually undertaken while in practice as both an academic and vocational three-year course and is a practical and economic alternative either to higher education for those wishing to pursue a career in the law or to law graduates who may not wish to take on the high cost burden of the LPC or BPTC. Entrants to the profession may be exempt from some areas of the costs lawyer course if they have appropriate legal qualifications, training or experience.

As a qualified costs lawyer you have the right to conduct proceedings and advocate at all levels on costs issues, including at county courts, the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

Francis Kendall is a costs lawyer, ACL council member and partner at Masters Legal Costs Services LLP. Visit the ACL website or contact them (phone them on 0203 174 0967 or use the contacts page) for more information about becoming a costs lawyer.