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How many people work in the field of legal costs?
Let us ignore from the figures the army of support staff such as secretaries and IT experts, legal costs recruiters, those journalists and publishers who deal with costs publications, specialist costs counsel and even members of the judiciary.
(I should warn junior readers that ignoring members of the judiciary when in court is best avoided. I did try this once during a detailed assessment hearing and you can’t begin to imagine how irate the costs judge eventually became. You wouldn’t expect to hear that kind of language from a sailor.)
How many actual “fee earners” work in a full time or part time capacity in costs? How would one even begin to establish this number?
If memory serves me right, the Association of Law Costs Draftsmen, as it then was, did try to undertake a similar task. I’ve no idea what the results were but the problem is trying to know whether the results are even remotely accurate. The membership of the Association can be readily identified but there is little doubt that only a relatively small proportion of those who work in costs are members.
How many in-house costs draftsmen work for solicitors? So far as I know, the Law Society keeps no such data. One would have to write to every firm in the country to find out and get an accurate response from each. If, say, 20% responded (and it would be very surprising to get such a high return from a voluntary survey) there would be no way of knowing how representative this was. There are, probably, a growing number of costs staff working in-house for solicitors due to the growth of some specialist costs firms and some major defendant panel solicitors now dealing with “volume” costs work, in place of some of the costs negotiating firms who previously handled such work. I am also ignoring the large number of solicitors who deal with costs in their own cases, at least part of the time. Although these are obviously not costs draftsmen, the work they undertake probably equates to the work of 100’s of full time costs draftsman.
How may costs draftsmen work in-house for insurers and loss adjusters? This would be an even more daunting and probably impossible question to answer. Again, many claims staff will deal with costs on their own cases, at least in some cases.
How many costs staff work for the volume “costs negotiators”. The distinction between traditional law costs draftsmen and legal costs negotiators has always been a largely superficial one, with the nature of the work being undertaken often being virtually indistinguishable. Although the numbers post-predictable costs, are no doubt much smaller than in the past, the numbers remain significant and only a small number appear to be members of the Association of Costs Lawyer.
Then, how many independent costs draftsmen are there who are not members? How does one even begin to discover this? It is a relatively simply task to contact ACL members and try to discover how many non-members work with them or for them. But what about others? Barely a week goes by when I do not come across a new costs draftsman my firm has not previously dealt with. Many of these fall into the one man band category and have no web presence of any kind. Unless and until one finds oneself dealing with them, they are publically invisible.
When I come across a costs firm I have not previously dealt with I will often check their website, if they have one. I am regularly surprised by the number of firms I have never dealt with who appear to have a not insignificant number of fee earners. Often with few, if any, who are ACL members.
Try a Google search for “costs draftsman” or “law costs draftsman” and explore the outer reaches – page 10 and onwards. Then try the same with Bing and see the entirely new names that appear.
The reason I raise the question of how many people work in the field of legal costs is because of the issue of the extent to which the ACL is representative of the industry. This has always been one of the problems the Association has faced. When the numbers are limited, it faces the accusation of not being truly representative. When it has tried to “solve” the problem by providing alternative routes into membership (such as by interview) it then faces the criticism of dumbing down just to boost numbers. Without protected body status it faces the problem of persuading non-members to join. Without representing the wider industry it will struggle to attain protected body status precisely because of the fact that it is not fully representative. Catch 22.
I was in the middle of writing this post when the latest issue of Costs Lawyer magazine landed on my doormat. (The highlight of my social life.) This mentioned:
“The Association is also launching a major recruitment drive to bring onboard more of the 5,000 people working as unqualified and unregulated costs draftsmen”
Although I would have to suggest that the figure of 5,000 given is entirely speculative, to be fair it does not look entirely unrealistic.
This is against an ACL membership of 764 as of 31 December 2009, with rumours that the numbers are dropping.
Assuming the ACL’s guesstimate of the numbers of non-members is accurate, the Association is a long way from being truly representative.
So, beyond the section 27 and 28 rights that Costs Lawyers have, what does the ACL have to work with to start attracting further members?
1. The ACL has established a comprehensive training programme for students. The Association is incredibly fortunate to have Murray Heining as Educational Development Office. From time-to-time I am approached via the Legal Costs Blog for advice as to how to start a career in costs and I never hesitate in pointing them in the direction of the Association’s Modular Training Course.
2. The monthly Costs Lawyer magazine. I’ve no idea how Editor Neil Rose manages to find so much interesting content each month. (And I’m not just talking about the occasional article that I write.)
3. The Members’ Forum run by Jon Williams. The main part of this on-line discussion forum allows members to post and respond to technical costs queries. Barely a day goes by where a post doesn’t appear that is the intellectual equivalent of a fiendish sudoku or Times Cryptic Crossword puzzle. And one then gets to see the enlightening responses, some from the intellectual heavyweights of the Association. Access to this alone is arguably worth the price of membership.
4. The discounts that the Association has secured for members. The Lawtel discount, compared to the shocking amounts they usually try to charge, means membership virtually pays for itself. Discounts are also secured for costs training conferences including a 50% discount for most CLT conferences.
5. Oh, and you get a diary.
Not a bad platform to build from.