Case Study

Creating a voice for the Association of Costs Lawyers in the legal profession

Objectives:

Initially to promote the ACL’s new name and its authorised body status and thereafter to position ACL as the voice on costs amongst solicitors, barristers, the judiciary, Costs Lawyers, and non-member costs draftsmen.

What we’ve done:

The Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) is a membership body representing and promoting the status and interests of Cost Lawyers in England and Wales. Founded in 1977, the Association was granted authorised body status in 2007 and is an authorised regulator, able to authorise its members to undertake the reserved legal activities of litigation and advocacy.

In recognition of this new-found status, ACL changed its name from the Association of Law Costs Draftsmen in 2011 and appointed Black Letter Communications to promote the name change. Thereafter, it tasked Black Letter Communications with ensuring that the ACL became the ‘go-to’ organisation for the media on all matters relating to costs. Our campaign continues to this date.

Early days

The Association was not well known outside of the costs world. One of our first tasks was to ensure that the Association was capitalising on the opportunities presented by the then Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, as well as those areas of the Jackson reforms that did not need legislation, such as the costs management pilots.

In conjunction with the ACL’s Chairman, we responded to all relevant legal costs issues at speed. This meant we were able to ensure that ACL’s opinion was heard by journalists just as stories had broken, thereby demonstrating ACL’s grasp on current issues and willingness to promote its members’ interests. This activity resulted in a steady stream of news reports in the legal media throughout the year, including ACL’s first-ever front page coverage in the Law Society Gazette and unprecedented national coverage in The Guardian and The Financial Times on the rising cost of legal fees in commercial litigation.

One legal journalist told us: “I’d never heard of ACL before Black Letter came along but now they are my first port of call on all things costs.”

We also adopted an approach of not relying solely on external events by creating our own news angles; as well as charting the unprecedented rise in Costs Lawyer student numbers, we secured the then Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, to give the keynote at the Association’s annual conference. Not only did this ensure a great opening to the event, his comments on hourly billing were picked up across the profession and also by national news media, referencing ACL.

At the same event we took the opportunity to survey the ACL membership about the impact of the Jackson reforms on the profession, resulting in almost 140 responses (around a fifth of the membership) and providing real insight into members’ preparations and appetite for change. The resulting news story received widespread coverage across key legal media and an in-depth report also appeared in the ACL’s membership magazine Costs Lawyer, allowing the membership to benchmark their answers with the rest of the profession.

We now repeat the survey annually.

Our introduction to the Civil Justice Council also saw the ACL asked to sit on its working party on Guideline Hourly Rates.

 

Consolidation

We then set about consolidating ACL’s position by stretching the profile beyond media relations and developed more targeted activity with profession influencers.

We created a hugely successful inaugural judicial roundtable, to gather the views of those at the sharp end of costs management. Participants included Mr Justice Vivian Ramsey – then the judge in charge of implementing the Jackson reforms – His Honour Judge Simon Brown QC, the Senior Costs Judge Peter Hurst and a number of Regional Costs Judges. This formed the basis for ACL’s first White Paper – Costs Management: the first year – which was sent to all members of the profession, allowing ACL to provide the definitive view on the new regime.

Press coverage continued to be achieved across legal and national media. This was supplemented by us securing regular columns in four key publications, namely: New Law Journal, Solicitors Journal, Law Society Gazette and CILEx Journal – a positive indicator of the influence the ACL has gained.

ACL today

2015 was the strongest year yet of our working relationship with ACL recording a 33% coverage increase on the previous two years.

Our distributed press releases and comments have been elevated to show ACL in a more strategic and campaigning light, with releases detailing the Association’s critique of the Legal Aid Agency’s Client and Costs Management System, a further judicial roundtable – with participants including Mr Justice Warby and Senior Costs Judge Andrew Gordon-Saker – and the annual members’ survey all attracting significant amounts of coverage.

The ACL’s policy influence also continues as a member of the Hutton committee looking into the new format bill of costs.

Francis Kendall, chair of the ACL’s PR and Marketing Committee, says: “Black Letter Communications continues to make an invaluable contribution to the profile of the ACL. Their team combines an appropriate level of journalistic experience and PR expertise to deliver real results for the ACL. We are extremely pleased by the increased profile achieved in a relatively short timeframe for the ACL and enjoy an excellent working relationship with Black Letter – they’re an integral part of our team.”

Further, our remit has extended and we now write and edit the bi-monthly Costs Lawyer magazine and weekly members’ ebulletin.

Ever committed to keeping the PR fresh, Black Letter is now planning a reinvention of the judicial roundtable and exploring an annual lecture.