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?
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.
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.