Only 2% of costs lawyers say that solicitors always stick to their costs budgets, according to a poll of specialist practitioners. Of the costs lawyers responding to the survey by the Association of Costs Lawyers, 72% said solicitors ‘sometimes’ went over their budget, while 22% said this always happened.
The poll, carried out following the ACL conference earlier this month, comes at a time when the government has asked Lord Justice Jackson to review fixed recoverable costs.
Jackson’s reforms in 2013 introduced costs budgeting into civil procedure rules, but costs lawyers appear to suggest this has yet to fix uncertainty and overspending.
ACL chairman Iain Stark said: ‘We are more than three years into costs budgeting and the reality is that – while it has been of benefit in some instances – it has not delivered in the way that was hoped.
‘This is, at least in part, because many solicitors have still not properly engaged with the process, even though they risk sanctions as a result.’
Stark said the fixed costs consultation, which is expected to contemplate applying the regime to cases worth up to £250,000, may be the ‘shock solicitors need to get serious about costs budgeting’.
Half of the 117 lawyers interviewed said that going over budget is caused by the case management conference being held too early, before the course of the litigation is clear.
Judges are also reported to be a problem: given a set of statements on how costs management is working, 62% ticked the option ‘it depends on which judge you’re before’. Almost a third of respondents agreed that ‘judicial inconsistency is killing it’. Just one in 10 costs lawyers felt judges had got to grips with costs management.
Meanwhile, lawyers have been given an extra week to submit evidence to Jackson’s review of fixed recoverable costs.
The deadline for submissions is now 23 January, with the date having been moved to help respondents who are also replying to the government’s consultation on personal injury reforms.