Association of Costs Lawyers launch


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The following is an edited version of the address given by Iain Stark, chairman of the Association of Costs Lawyers, at the recent launch of the Association’s new name, which appeared in Costs Lawyer magazine, and is reproduced with his kind permission:

Henry Ford once said that coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.

We have now formally marked the birth of the Association of Costs Lawyers, which reflects the hard work of my predecessors since the inception of the Association in 1977.

The rights and responsibilities attaching to Costs Lawyers mean that no longer can members of the Association be constrained to the description of draftsmen, charge predominantly with the task of preparing a calculation of legal costs.

You will have read elsewhere in this issue that the standing of a Costs Lawyer has been elevated by the introduction by the Legal Services Commission of a policy providing that a Costs Lawyer with a practicing certificate, who is an authorised litigator in accordance with the Courts and Services Act 1990, will henceforth be able to sign forms.

This will be welcomed by Costs Lawyers, their clients and employers. It will speed up the process of claims for the claimant and will also enable independent Costs Lawyers to add an extra service to their clients. This right will become all the more important if and when online billing is introduced. Will this be the catalyst for the preparation of bills of costs to become a reserved activity?

Solid foundation

As a profession, we’ve undertaken change and must continue to evolve if we are to keep pace with the current reforms in relation to legal costs generally. We must look to the future and embrace the reforms by diversifying and utilising our new-found status as Costs Lawyers to facilitate growth within our profession. Failure to do so and to remain stagnant will lead to our demise.

The unification of the membership provides a solid foundation upon which to grow. He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.

An element within the legal costs community fear for their jobs. The inference drawn from Lord Justice Jackson’s report led many practising within the legal costs industry to fear for the future of the profession. This has been further amplified by the invitation to frontline regulators to respond to the consultation for the reform of legal aid funding in England and Wales.

We are entering a period of great change where the Association as frontline regulator must have a voice in moulding the future of legal costs. The recognised status of the Costs Lawyer can provide a platform from which to do this.

As I look back to 2006/7, it is clear that part 1 of the Legal Services Act has been the driving force behind the inevitable changes that had to occur if, as an Association, we were to have a future. I strongly believe that regulation affords us the opportunity to aspire to become the driving force in legal costs.

The Legal Services Act contains ‘professional principles’. These apply to services provided by authorised persons, including services which do not involve the carrying out of activities which are defined as reserved legal activities, such as bill preparation.

The professional principles are that an authorised person should act with independence and integrity. An authorised person should maintain proper standards of work. An authorised person should act in the best interests of their clients. That persons who exercise before any court a right of audience or who conduct litigation, must act with independence in the interests of justice. And that the affairs of their clients should be kept confidential.

As authorised persons, professional principles are what set Costs Lawyers apart from those within the legal costs industry who are not regulated. In my firm opinion, this must be to our advantage.

Embracing regulation

With the passage of the Legal Services Act and a necessity for regulation within the legal community generally, the importance of a Costs Lawyer affords assurances for the wider legal profession and public. The Act defines a Costs Lawyer by complying with professional principles. To retain a Costs Lawyer ensures professional standards through regulation. It is not only important that as an Association we embrace regulation. It is vital for our future if we are grow and fulfil our role as a frontline regulator.

With the advent of the Costs Lawyers Standards Board, the retention of the services of a member of this Association guarantees standards akin to any other regulator professional practising within the law. As such, the skill of a Costs Lawyer must be viewed as an integral part of any litigation.

With this in mind, it is my wish that only individuals entitled to carry out reserved activities appear in the future. With the status of Costs Lawyer, it is my hope and aspiration that the current trend to allow individuals who have not been granted rights of audience cease. To ignore the status of a Costs Lawyer when appearing in court is a discourtesy to those who have worked so hard to obtain recognition.

So, what for the future? Well, it must be for the Association to continue to raise the bar insofar as standards are concerned within the legal costs community at large. To encourage those non-members practicing within legal costs to join the Association. And as an Association and frontline regulator, we must continue this proactive approach.

Put simply, the Association has come of age and through regulating members we must become an integral component in the future of defining legal costs. If success is measured by what is as an Association we have achieved to date, whilst I accept we’ve got a long way to go, we are reaching our goals.

I may have read too much into this but I thought I detected a subtle nod of approval for my candidacy for the ACL Council.


19 thoughts on “Association of Costs Lawyers launch


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    Anonymous on said:

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    “To ignore the status of a Costs Lawyer when appearing in court is a discourtesy to those who have worked so hard to obtain recognition.”

    Hmmmm. Entry to the ALCD by interview. Granting of Costs Lawyer tile, by attending a course without examination. Shortening the course. Elevating all Associates to Fellows without any further exam.

    Worked hard? What was that film about an inconvenient truth?

    The only thing evident from this article, is the desperation of the ACL to safeguard themselves, in the wake of the Jackson reforms, to try prohibiting anyone not ACL from having any place whatsoever in dealing with costs.


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    Anonamouse on said:

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    Wow Simon, just think despite your quote “I wouldn’t be remotely competent to deal with a legal aid matter” you’ll be able to sign for legal aid bills.

    The article begs the question, why did it lead with the legal aid issue, surely an minor point to important high trained Costs Lawyers.


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    Defendant Solicitor on said:

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    Anonymous is right.

    The ACL remind me of the worst sort of nouveau riche snob.

    Some of the best costs people I know are not ACL members. Some have jumped through as many hoops as ACL members have (i.e. None at all.)


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    Jon Williams on said:

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    An (sic) minor point it might be but is that all you have to say anonymously from behind your monitor? If so, it was hardly worth it.

    As for the first spineless and anonymous post, jealousy is a curse my shy friend. Seriously, what would you expect a trade union, which essentially it is and certainly will be once the CLSB is up and running, to do? Advise it’s members to down tools and do something different when the proposed reforms kick in? Your ignorance is startling and if lowering the bar to membership were to result in your entrance then it will be a sad, sad day indeed. 

    And finally, to Mr (Monsieur?) Defendant Solicitor. Some of the best costs people you know aren’t members you say? I’ll settle for that for now – it being implicit therein that some of the best costs people you know are indeed members. 

    I deal with countless costs draftsmen (let us use that generic title for present purposes) and many of them are not members of the ACL. Many of them might need assistance in typing merely the acronym, let alone the rest of the application form, but I would rather have them inside, and regulated, than outside and believing their own hyperbole. I guess that includes the anonymous and feckless who type such tripe on this blog.

    Simon, this page is close to not needing the L.


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    Defendant Solicitor on said:

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    Mr. Williams.

    Firstly, you are quite right that my post implies that many of the best costs people are in the ACL; indeed they are and i am quite happy to state this. I hope that my post did not offend; it was meant in a tongue in cheek manner. Perhaps a fuller post may make my views clearer.

    I think the ACL falls into error in two respects:

    Firstly, the implication that costs lawyers are somehow a ‘better breed’ than non ACL draftsmen. This just cannot be argued when many costs lawyers have never sat an exam or had their skills assessed. I suspected that the upgrade of Associates to Fellows and the costs lawyer ‘course’ requiring attendance only would come back to haunt the ACL and this is one of the examples where it has done just that.

    You simply cannot argue that the ACL is a mark of quality when members practise as costs lawyers having not once demonstrated their competence. I think this is unique amongst regulated lawyers.

    This point leads on the second; if you publicly seek to take livelihoods away from many costs draftsman by making bill drafting a reserved activity then you should expect anger from those costs draftsmen. You should also expect to have to justify why a costs lawyer who has no qualifications (other than having sat at the back of a hall for a day) should be able to undertake work that a costs draftsman who has 30 years experience cannot.

    While these issues remain your association’s hope of making bill drafting a reserved activity remain hopeless.

    What’s done is done but I would suggest that you should have made associates who had not passed the ALCD exam pass the Fellowship exam before becoming fellows.

    You should also have made the costs lawyer status subject to passing an examination on evidence and courtroom ethics and an assessment on advocacy.

    Had you done so then your position would have been strengthened.

    I should say that I am NOT in any way anti-ACL. I have good costs lawyers in my dept (but they share many of the concerns outlined above) and your association has some fine members. I just think you went about things the wrong way.

    Regards

    Def Sol.


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    Ben Pitts on said:

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    I think that anon’s comments are clearly true in light of the overly defensive reply of Mr Williams above.

    (Editor’s Note: Not the Ben Pitts from BPW Legal Recruitment)


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    Bonfire on said:

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    Surely the acid test is that those who are good, whether or not they are ACL members, will flourish and prosper and those who are not will at some stage fall by the wayside.

    And surely, Mr Pitt, it is in the interests of all those who practice as law costs draftsmen or rely on them for their living, as you do, to become and support the professional and the regulated.

    What the ACL has done is not some knee jerk response to the Jackson proposals but the culmination of many years of effort by those within the Association who have always regarded themselves as members of a profession and not just people who have found another way of making a living.


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    Ben Pitts on said:

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    I take that comment as a thinly disguised threat ”bonfire”…..

    (Editor’s Note: Not the Ben Pitts from BPW Legal Recruitment)


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    anonamouse on said:

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    So Mr Williams, maybe you could suggest to Mr Gibbs that only Costs Lawyers should be allowed to post, as I’m sure all their posts would be worth it and only cover weighty and important matters, given how highly trained they are.

    PS
    If it’s such a minor point [sic], why did the Chairman feel that he had to include it at the start of his address, or even at all?


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    Jon Williams on said:

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    Defendant Solicitor,

    Your comments today are entirely respected and I was not at all offended by your previous post. Indeed, I share (and shared at the material time) a number of your views in principle. However, I should like to make a number of reposts, if I may.

    Regarding the ‘better breed’ argument, is it not fair to say, at the very least, that Costs Lawyers will have undertaken some training (you refer to “no qualifications”)?

    ‘Modern’ Costs Lawyers will have successfully completed the entire training course and examination, Fellows will have successfully completed the course (be it the current course, more or less, or the previous requirement to submit essay-type work) and an examination (if not two examinations – I sat two) and Associates (at least the vast majority thereof) will have successfully completed one examination. Thereafter of course, those members will have completed their annual CPD requirements. Compare that to a non-member who has not undertaken a training course, an examination or indeed CPD. Some such non-members, who take pride in what they do, will of course regularly attend training seminars and the like even if they are not compelled to do so, but we can but speak generally. Accordingly, ‘some’ training and CPD (not to mention compulsory PI insurance – at an adequate level of indemnity or not is a separate issue) has to be preferable to none and so to argue the converse (i.e. that non-members are generally as well-trained / qualified as members, or that membership of the ACL is in no way a mark of quality) is entirely unsustainable.

    I would respectfully refer you to Lords Hansard 05/12/06:

    Per Lord Evans of Temple Guiting:
    “These orders have passed through the required statutory approval procedure. In doing so, they have been considered and approved by the Legal Services Consultative Panel, the Office of Fair Trading and the senior judiciary and, as a result, have my full support.”

    Per Lord Carlile of Berriew:
    “We on the Liberal Democrat Benches regard the Association of Law Cost Draftsmen as a respected body which has brought professional discipline to an area that at one time was relatively unregulated. We recognise that law cost draftsmen, particularly those who have been through the qualification provisions provided by this organisation, are often the most competent to conduct litigation, including advocacy in relation to costs. I confess the interest of having been a beneficiary and occasionally the victim of the work of law costs draftsmen, so I can give evidence of their efficacy. Appropriate scrutiny has occurred as provided in Schedule 4 to the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. This is a step forward in providing competitive legal services.”

    Broadly speaking therefore, the ACL’s training regime has already been approved by the MoJ, the LSCP, the OFT and the senior judiciary so as to comply with the CLSA 1990 and while I do not propose that the ACL rests on its laurels as it were, it is not fair to imply that the ACL’s training course is simply insufficient – especially if that implication is propounded in support of entirely unregulated and unqualified practitioners.

    Even the owner of this site had the following to say recently:

    “[The ACL has] 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.”

    With regard to reserved legal activity, I had the following to say on the subject recently:

    “DJ Hill’s article in [last] month’s Costs Lawyer could have enormous ramifications for non-members of the ACL (although it might come to nothing, I accept). I much prefer such rational and largely indefensible consideration of existing law to a hopeful and in my view doomed endeavour to persuade the powers that be to specifically add ‘costs drafting’ (and all that follows under such words) to the list of reserved legal activity. If the law already exists, the LSB needs no lobbying – and such lobbying would be, in my view at least, a wasted exercise as the LSB would no doubt be exceedingly reluctant to impose what may be perceived to be new and disproportionate restrictions to cure what some may say is not a huge problem. The judiciary, if you will forgive the coming expression, need to be educated and invited, in the right circumstances of course, to pass comment (along the lines of what happened in Ahmed –v- Powell a good few years ago). If District and Costs Judges are prepared to start the end of the fiction, then the ACL’s endeavour to increase the size of the membership will be considerably easier all round.”

    Regards,

    Jon


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    Jon Williams on said:

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    Mr Mouse,

    It was news – nothing more and nothing less. Only shortly before the address had the LSC confirmed their willingness to accept forms signed by Costs Lawyers. It wasn’t intended, and I do not read it, to be a blazing headline; the headline was the launch of the ACL.

    As for your suggested suggestion to Mr Gibbs, I have no interest. See Defendant Solicitor’s comments above – constructive discussion will always be welcomed by me whereas the nonsensical whining of malcontents, such as you and your mus musculus cohorts, will not.


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    Anonymous on said:

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    “nonsensical whining of malcontents”

    – simply, wow! Way to show all us non-ACL draftsman what’s what there.

    If you are in, your are fine with me, if you are not I couldn’t care less…. is the impression you are giving

    As Defendant solicitor said “if you publicly seek to take livelihoods away from many costs draftsman by making bill drafting a reserved activity then you should expect anger from those costs draftsmen”

    The fallacy that only those who are already ACL members take their job seriously and consider it a profession continues


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    Anonymous on said:

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    I would add that it is a shame that it is very quickly becoming a case of “us” and “them”


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    Anonymous on said:

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    I am the original “anonymous” poster on this thread.

    I am most grateful to Mr Williams for highlighting the root problem of elitism which pervades the ALCD?ACL

    I spent yesterday listening to a Costs Lawyer at a Conference bumble her way through what was largely inaccurate (or just wrong) advice to the assembled delegates, and yet we were expected to listen to her “advice” and treat it as Gospel as she was a Costs Lawyer.

    By contrast, I spoke with several other Costs Lawyers, whom clearly were much more suitably representative of what a Costs Lawyer should be, and indeed we had most enjoyable discourse on a variety of subjects.

    The point being, having the title, does not confer any degree of ability nor excellence, largely because of how the ALCD?ACL have “developed” their members over the years, as in my original post. Notwithstanding, they preach to non-members with disdain, as evidenced indeed by Mr Williams ranting diatribe.

    Finally, evidently I am “spineless”, “ignorant”, “feckless” etc etc according to Mr Williams. How proud the ACL must be to have such ill-tempered (at best) comments made on its behalf. A wonderful advert for anyone considering joining – but of course, none of us could even fill in the forms!


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    Anonymous on said:

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    Calm down everyone, there are a lot worse things in life to worry about!!!


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    Graham on said:

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    I think it is has to be accepted that there are good costs lawyers and there are bad ones and I’m not saying which one I am. That said, there are good and bad barristers and did you here the one about 99% of solicitors give the 1% a bad name?

    Some excel in public speaking, some excel in written advice and some excel in one to one situations but very few are good in all those situations – not everyone is perfect.


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    Simon Gibbs on said:

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    Speak for yourself Graham.


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    Jon Williams on said:

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    Two closing points gents/ladies:

    1. My views are just that – my views. They are not those of the ACL nor anyone else.

    2. Still you hide behind the cloak of anonymity. Enough said.


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    Anonymous on said:

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    Thank you for those closing points Mr Williams. They ignore entirely the issues you were so vociferous in your condemnations previously upon, but as you say, enough said

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