Thoughts of a Trainee Costs Lawyer

People often ask me how I ended up working in the legal sector when I have a degree in philosophy. “Is it something you chose to study at university?”; “Had you always wanted to be a lawyer?”; “Is it somewhere you have been led to by family members?” Yet the truth is that it has happened purely by chance.

I entered my firm back in August 2013 as an entry-level paralegal on one of the largest human rights case of its kind. I got this job out of necessity, from an advert in a temping agency, as I had left my previous career in search of something more interesting. A few months into my job as a paralegal, I was asked if I’d like to assist a group of costs draftsmen who were beginning to prepare the budget for the case. Out of curiosity, as I had never even heard of a costs draftsman before, I agreed to help out in an administrative role for the department. My role was to monitor time recording, and start phasing all the work undertaken by people working on the case. Phasing is not something I’d ever heard of, so again, I was quite intrigued by their work. I quickly settled into my role as a member of ‘costs support’ and began to learn about the job and the wider role of a costs draftsman.

By December of last year, I had become firmly immersed in the costs department, and was offered the role of a junior costs draftsman. I had enjoyed the last few months (slightly geeky, I know), so I accepted the offer, and quickly became involved in the human rights case again. The only difference this time is that I was one of two costs draftsman charged with helping draft a multi-million pound budget. This was a big leap from the fast track PI bills I expected to draft when I accepted the job.

Our roles as costs draftsmen developed, and we became involved in areas such as project management and operational support. I also had the opportunity to draft legal documentation, and supervised a small team of support staff to aid us in preparation for the budget.

As part of my role I was fortunate enough to be included in meetings and conferences relating to the case with senior management and Counsel. All this was a big leap from a temporary paralegal in such a short space of time. Since working on the human rights case, I have been involved in another group action, and enjoy being able to draft bills when I have some spare time!! Despite the obvious days when work is quite slow, including times when I’d prefer to be relaxing on a sunny beach with an iced cold drink in my hand, no two days are the same. I could be called to a meeting to take notes with Counsel with 30 minutes’ notice, or dragged along to a hearing for advocacy training.

Of course, all this is now interspersed in my studies with the Association of Costs Lawyers on its new costs lawyer training course, which I joined in September this year. To me, it seemed like a logical step to make if I wanted to gain a solid foundation of knowledge for a long-term career.

Essentially, the role of a costs lawyer is to advise and act in all areas of litigation. This includes disputed costs between parties and the exercise of costs budgeting. Over recent years, the scope of a costs lawyer has changed quite dramatically and is becoming an increasingly popular route into the legal profession. This is the route I’ve experienced first-hand. The role of a costs draftsman working solely on fast track cases, drafting bills of costs and points of dispute have now been enhanced into something different. Costs lawyers can now enjoy involvement in budgeting, which involves a direct understanding and involvement of the running of cases from instruction to settlement. This has also influenced other elements including project management, operational support, and advocacy.

I believe the continuing changing nature of the role of a costs lawyer will mean that professional respect can only increase, and the full value of the role realised. Ensuring professional development and providing opportunities for those in costs roles will be pivotal in continuing the transition from a law costs draftsman to costs lawyer. For me, the next challenge will be the impact that changes in legislation regarding, for example, personal injury claims, have on the role of a costs lawyer and the way costs departments are run. However, right now, I am enjoying the challenges of the three-year course. The online learning environment is particularly helpful in balancing the demands of work and study, and I know I am building a solid foundation for a rewarding legal career.

David Joseph Vella is a trainee costs lawyer and works for Antony Hodari Solicitors

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08 Jun 2016

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