A costs lawyer ensures that a business relationship between a lawyer and their client is properly established, so that any legal costs incurred can be charged appropriately

Costs lawyers are highly specialist lawyers working in the practice area of legal costs - they're the only branch of the legal profession with detailed knowledge and expertise in the legal costs field. You'll predominantly work with firms of solicitors, but you may also be instructed by members of the public, including businesses.

Costs lawyers work on:

  • the costs between the parties - unsuccessful litigants are usually ordered to pay the successful litigant's costs. If costs can't be agreed, a detailed bill is prepared and served.
  • solicitor and client costs - the costs a client pays his own solicitor. Different rules apply to costs where court proceedings have already commenced (known as contentious business) to those for non-contentious matters, such as conveyancing, probate and general advice. Clients who are unhappy with a solicitor's bill can challenge it - at this point a costs lawyer may be instructed to prepare a detailed bill of costs, can advise on law and cost procedure, and may argue in support of (or oppose) the bill.
  • legal aid or public funding - where a solicitor is representing a publicly funded client, a detailed bill is usually required to be assessed by the court of the Legal Services Commission before payment can be made out of the community legal fund.

The work can be varied and costs lawyers are increasingly more involved in cases from the start, advising on solicitor client retainers and costs estimates or budgeting. They may manage a claim through to final settlement and at the conclusion of proceedings deal with costs assessments.

You'll need to have knowledge of all areas of legal practice to work as a costs lawyer. The facts and procedure followed in each case will be different, which will allow you to use and develop different skills and build your legal knowledge.

Responsibilities

As a costs lawyer, you'll:

  • draft bills and schedules of costs
  • draft points of dispute and replies to costs claims
  • assist in preparing costs budgets and advise on costs budgets presenting by an opposing party
  • advise on retainers and fee arrangements between clients and their legal advisers
  • advise on and prepare claims for costs from public funds (Legal Aid)
  • advocate at costs-related hearings
  • act as a costs mediator or arbitrator in costs disputes, advising on disputes between solicitors and their clients
  • supervise junior costs employees as you progress your own career.

You'll be able to carry out certain reserved activities that only a qualified and regulated costs lawyer is eligible to undertake. To do so, on qualification you'll apply to the Costs Lawyers Standards Board (CLSB) for a practising certificate that enables you to perform the following acts, provided for under the Legal Services Act 2007:

  • the exercise of a right of audience
  • the conduct of litigation
  • the administration of oaths.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for a graduate trainee in London and the South East are between £18,000 and £25,000 - slightly higher than in the rest of the UK.
  • Experienced costs lawyers, with up to five years of qualified work, can earn between £25,000 and £40,000.
  • For those with more than five years' experience, costs lawyers can expect up to £50,000 in the regions and up to £80,000 in London and the South East.

Your location will determine your starting salary and your future earning potential. The lowest salaries tend to be in the Midlands, as there are less costs teams in the region and most are working within the personal injury sector.

Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and Leeds-based costs lawyers can also command premium salaries both within law firms and costs companies as these areas have expanded as legal, financial and commercial centres.

As a costs lawyer there are a number of factors that influence how much you can expect to earn. Generally, if you're working in the commercial sector you can expect to earn more than someone working in a personal injury department, for instance.

Salary figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are largely dependent on the nature of your employment and the area of costs you work in. For example, if you work in-house there may be set hours, whereas if you work independently and run your own firm you may determine your working hours. Working in-house often requires a 37.5-hour week, split across shifts from 8am to 6pm.

If your work involves researching and preparing budgets, costing out contingencies or disputing costs issued to a client, then your workload will fluctuate according to the complexity of the issues and urgency of deadlines. This means some days you may need to work more hours than others. How much investigation is required into the issues, and the need to involve other external parties in the process, are variables that may mean a task takes longer.

If you appear in court to deliver or dispute a case then your hours for this type of work will be determined by the hours the courts operate. Courts typically sit from 10am until 4pm, but you'll have to spend time preparing outside of these hours - meeting clients and preparing documents, for example.

What to expect

  • The current costs market has seen a decline in the high volume, low compensation level claims and a greater focus on more complex, higher value cases. In-house costs departments in law firms and costs companies tend to be looking for people with some experience in these areas, or are recruiting at a junior level for someone with one to two years of drafting experience.
  • If you're working in a costs department in a law firm as an employee, you'll have the benefit of the law firm's insurance to protect you as an employee of the firm. You may also have the usual employee benefits such as pension contributions, discounted gym membership, private healthcare and life/critical illness insurance.
  • Some costs companies will offer a similar benefits package in addition to performance bonuses, but not all - it's important to research the range of salary packages offered by different employers.
  • The variety of your workload in a law firm depends on the areas of practice they cover and the clients they represent. A costs company could offer a wider variety of work across a range of sectors, and different types of clients including individuals, solicitors and other businesses. These opportunities may offer more flexible working patterns such as working from home and agile working or even travelling to different locations. If the consultancy operates over a wider range of regions than would be possible in a law firm, your location may not be as crucial in securing the type of work you are seeking.
  • In general there are more female than male lawyers entering the profession, however senior positions in law firms are currently predominantly filled by males. Widening participation, and electing ethnic minority and disabled representatives in firms across the country, presents positive indicators for the sector.
  • Your dress code is likely to be business dress, in line with the professional working environment.

Qualifications

To qualify as a costs lawyer you currently need to undertake a three-year modular training course. This involves passing both theory and practical exams, and undertaking at least three years of relevant employment in costs law - before, during or after completing the course. This training is provided by the professional body, the Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL).

If you're over 18 and have a minimum of four GCSEs including maths and English at grade 4 or above, you can apply to study the Costs Lawyer qualification. Without the minimum qualifications, you may be asked to sit an aptitude test.

You'll also need a business reference and character reference with your application. It's recommended you have experience working in a cost department with a costs lawyer, but you can still apply if you aren't yet working in this environment.

If you have a law degree, the Legal Practice Course (LPC), Bar Practical Training Course (BPTC) or Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) qualification, you may qualify for exemptions from some of the course modules.

You can start training to become a costs lawyer at different academic stages. You can apply to work in a costs department following your A-levels, after your degree (in law or non-law), after completing the LPC, or even after a training contract.

Once you're able to hold the title of costs lawyer, you'll have achieved a Level 6 qualification and three years' supervised practice - find out more about how ACL Training (ACLT) supervises practice at ACL Supervised Practice.

Most trainee costs lawyers will be sponsored by their employer through their training programme. It's possible to study the training programme without working in a costs department, but this is very rare, and will require an interview at the end of your training to ensure you meet the standards required to perform the job.

Skills

You'll need:

  • willingness to learn and develop new skills as a trainee
  • analytical skills, for the practical application of the law to cases
  • excellent written and oral communication skills for preparing reports, written submissions and conducting advocacy in court
  • negotiating skills, as the job requires frequent litigation work
  • proficiency with mathematical calculations and working with data, and competence with IT systems and software packages
  • logical problem-solving skills, and to be a methodical thinker
  • the ability to follow processes with excellent attention to detail and accuracy
  • the ability to budget for case costs and building in contingencies, forward planning and forecasting
  • knowledge of current trends in the area(s) you're required to prepare a costs analysis on.

Work experience

You can find work experience working in a company's finance department, as a clerk in a court or in a law firm's costs team. You can even get practical experience of costs in an insurance company or local government finance or legal service department.

You might consider a work placement or internship in an in-house legal team within an organisation to get a better understanding of how a business operates and the legal processes involved in areas such as company secretary work, compliance, data protection, contracts, and costs.

Getting into costs law may involve working within a law firm in a costs department, working as a legal intern, a legal assistant or paralegal with a workload that requires costing out claims, budgeting and forecasting.

Employers

Most costs lawyers are employed at firms of solicitors or by insurers. Costs lawyers can become equity partners in law firms, as they have the required professional qualifications.

Practices can range from sole practitioners to multinational firms with offices all over the world. Take a look at some of the top UK law firms.

Some costs lawyers set up their own independent costs companies. You can set up your own business representing professional clients such as solicitors and chartered legal executives, individual lay clients and business clients. You must personally have professional indemnity insurance of at least £100,000 if you're not an employee of a law firm.

There are also a small number of specialist barrister's chambers who advise and represent clients who require specialist claims.

Look for job vacancies at:

You can also use specialist legal recruitment agencies, such as:

Try to build a network of contacts from any work experience you do or any interviews you attend. Staying in touch with mentors or teachers may also present opportunities at a later date. Find law firms you're interested in and attend open days, on-campus recruitment fairs or join a local or regional Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) group, to start building contacts within junior lawyers and trainees.

Professional development

All costs lawyers in employment or in legal practice in England and Wales must currently undertake 12 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) per year. A costs lawyer is required to continuously develop their knowledge and practical skills to ensure they operate to the standard expected of them in the Costs Lawyer Code of Conduct, as drawn up by the Costs Lawyer Standards Board. The details of requirements can be found at the Costs Lawyer Continuous Professional Development Rules.

As a qualified costs lawyer, you can become a full member of the ACL. If you're working towards ACLT's qualifications, you can become a trainee member of the ACL.

As a qualified costs lawyer you have higher rights of audience when undertaking costs work, so you can appear before all courts in the UK - usually in legal aid costs cases and both civil and criminal cases. It's therefore important to keep up-to-date on all legal precedents.

You can also keep informed about the industry by reading legal publications. The professional journal of the profession is The Costs Lawyer Journal, published by ACL.

Career prospects

An initial entry point for some is as a law costs draftsperson, after which you would move to the role of trainee costs lawyer, then costs lawyer. After this you might be promoted to costs manager, and then senior costs lawyer, partner in a law firm or managing director of your own business.

Costs lawyers have the legal qualifications required to become partners in law firms. You could also set up your own business providing legal costs work to clients.

You could work for an insurance company in the legal costs department and progress to costs manager then senior costs lawyer, running your own team or your own department.

With the skills you gain as a cost lawyer, you could consider other financial areas of legal work, such as a barrister's clerk. Other options include any work involving preparing costs, budgets or financial planning such as a compliance officer and legal project management.

If you work in a law firm, you'll be constantly learning and developing working alongside senior lawyers. You may realise your career ambitions better through having an open, enquiring mind, and the desire to learn from other experts.

Once you reach a certain level in a firm you can expect greater autonomy and decision-making opportunities.

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