Costs lawyers are specialist legal professionals who work in the law and practice of legal costs

As a costs lawyer, you'll ensure that a business relationship between a lawyer and their client is properly established, so that any legal costs incurred can be charged appropriately.

The work can be varied and costs lawyers are increasingly more involved in cases from the start, advising on solicitor client retainers and cost estimates or budgeting. You 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.

You'll mainly work with firms of solicitors, but you may also be instructed by members of the public, including businesses.

Costs lawyers are the only branch of the legal profession with detailed knowledge and expertise in the legal costs field. Qualified cost lawyers are regulated by the Costs Lawyer Standards Board (CLSB).

Areas of work

You can 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 their 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 Aid Agency before payment can be made out of the community legal fund.

You may work in a particular specialism, for example legal aid work, work with either claimants or defendants, or undertake a broad range of work.

Responsibilities

As a costs lawyer, you'll need to:

  • manage a costs caseload of claimant/defendant costs files
  • prepare costs budgets and advise on costs budgets presented by an opposing party
  • draft bills of costs and schedules of costs
  • draft points of dispute and replies to costs claims
  • advise on retainers and fee arrangements between clients and their legal advisers
  • advise and help in all aspects of the recovery of costs
  • negotiate on cost offers
  • advise on and prepare claims for costs from public funds (Legal Aid)
  • liaise with external agencies such as the Legal Aid Agency
  • work closely with accounts teams
  • maintain and update client records
  • provide accurate reports
  • attend costs assessments and 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 develop your own career
  • keep up to date with best practice and compliance matters.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for graduate trainees typically range from around £18,000 to £25,000.
  • Experienced costs lawyers, with up to five years of qualified work, can expect to earn between £25,000 and £45,000.
  • Costs lawyers with five to ten years' experience may earn salaries of between £50,000 and £80,000. It is occasionally possible to earn in excess of this amount if you have extensive experience and are working for a major London firm.

Salaries depend on a range of factors including your location. Salaries in and around London, for example, are typically higher than in other regions. Other factors that can affect salary include your area of work, type of employer and level of experience.

Some companies offer performance bonuses. Additional benefits may include a pension, discounted gym membership, private healthcare and life/critical illness insurance. Check the full salary package when applying for jobs.

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 you will often work a 37.5-hour week, split across shifts from 8am to 6pm. You may have to work longer hours on occasion to meet deadlines.

If you work independently and run your own firm, you may determine your own working hours.

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

  • You may work in an office, although there are opportunities for more flexible working patterns such as working from home and agile working.
  • 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.
  • Your dress code is likely to be business dress, in line with the professional working environment.

Qualifications

To qualify as a costs lawyer, you need to complete the Level 6 Costs Lawyer Qualification, as well as a minimum of three-years of supervised practice, which can be taken before, during or after your study. The qualification is provided by ACL Training, the education arm of the Association of Costs Lawyers.

The course is split into three units and includes assignments, practical seminars and exams at the end of each unit. It is delivered via distance learning as trainees are usually in full-time employment. If you don't already have any legal qualifications, you will have to complete all three units, which takes three years.

In order to start studying, you must be at least 18 years old and have one of the following or equivalent:

  • four GCSEs at grade 4 or above, including English and maths
  • two A-levels and one GSCE, including English
  • three AS level passes, including either English or maths
  • GNVQ at intermediate or advance level (if a communications skills element is included)
  • passed a written aptitude test set by the ACL.

If you have a qualifying law degree, or other relevant legal qualification, you may qualify for exemptions from some of the course modules or units. This can reduce the time it takes to complete the qualification to 12 months, depending on the level and content of your qualification. For a full list of exemptions, see ACL Training - Exemptions.

Once you've successfully completed both the qualification and supervised practice, you can apply to the Costs Lawyer 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
  • conduct of litigation
  • administration of oaths.

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 to have:

  • 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
  • numeracy skills and the ability to work with data
  • competence with IT systems and software packages
  • logical problem-solving skills
  • 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
  • time management skills and the ability to work to tight deadlines
  • the ability to work well under pressure
  • the ability to prioritise your workload and multitask
  • knowledge of current trends in the area(s) you're required to prepare a costs analysis on
  • a willingness to learn and develop new skills as a trainee.

Work experience

Having work experience in an area such as litigation or law costs is very useful. This could involve working in the costs department of a law firm, working as a legal intern, a legal assistant or paralegal with a workload that requires costing out claims, budgeting and forecasting.

You could 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.

You could also get experience working in a company's finance department or as a clerk in a court. You can even get practical experience of costs in an insurance company or local government finance or legal service department.

Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.

Employers

Costs lawyers can work in-house for a firm of solicitors, for firms that deal solely with legal costs or independently.

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.

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:

Specialist legal recruitment agencies also advertise vacancies.

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 or recruitment fairs.

Professional development

Once you're qualified and have obtained your practising certificate, you must keep your skills and knowledge up to date by undertaking continuing professional development (CPD) activities each year. Activities can include:

  • attending conferences and seminars
  • attending training and events
  • delivering training
  • researching and reading
  • writing articles for journals, such as The Costs Lawyer Journal, and other publications
  • supervising trainee costs lawyers.

Your practising certificate must be renewed annually and you need to obtain a minimum of 12 CPD points per year. You must record and evaluate your CPD, reporting it to the CSLB when requested. For more information, see CPD requirements.

As a qualified costs lawyer, you can become a full member of the ACL. Membership provides a range of benefits, including access to training, events and conferences, as well as the opportunity to network with other costs lawyers.

Career prospects

An initial entry point for some is as a law costs clerk or costs draftsman, after which you would move to the role of junior or 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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