High Court boost for costs lawyers as new way to qualify goes live

Hutchinson: Exciting moment

The first course offering the new way to qualify as a costs lawyer has begun admitting students in the wake of a major shake-up of the profession’s training regime.

It comes in the wake of a High Court master who ordered parties to engage in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) over the claimant’s budget saying the use of costs lawyers saved both time and money.

Costs lawyers are one of the eight regulated legal professions and qualify with independent rights to conduct litigation and advocacy.

The Costs Lawyer Professional Qualification, being delivered by ACL Training – an arm of the Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) – can be done in two years. The first cohort will begin in September (the closing date for applications is 20 August), with a second in February 2024.

Students must be at least 18 and ACL Training said “the role may attract a wider pool of young people who may not previously have considered studying law”, given its mix of advocacy, advice and numbers.

The new training rules have been designed by the regulator, the Costs Lawyer Standards Board (CLSB), and approved by the Legal Services Board. ACL Training is the first and so far only organisation to have its course accredited by the CLSB.

It is a two-year, part-time, online course that comprises a diploma in civil practice, a diploma in costs law and practice and an award in costs advocacy. Those with law degrees and other legal qualifications may be entitled to certain exemptions.

In the coming months, those unsure about committing to the full course, or who want to develop specific areas of their costs knowledge, will be able to apply to complete individual modules.

The period of qualifying work experience students need is two years as well and can be done before, during or after the course. Both elements were previously three years.

Sarah Hutchinson, the chair of ACL Training, said: “This is an exciting moment for the costs lawyer profession. All too often when we talk about legal careers, we focus on the roles of solicitor and barrister.

“What does not get enough attention is the alternative legal careers available, or the qualifications available post-qualification for specialism, of which costs law fulfils both.”

ACL chair Jack Ridgway added: “The profession should be loud and proud about the contribution it makes to legal services and, at a time when expert advice on legal costs is needed more than ever, I am confident that the qualification will serve us, and employers, well.”

Kate Wellington, chief executive of the CLSB, said: “With demand for costs expertise on the rise, a strong and independent costs lawyer profession is more important than ever. The new regulatory framework for qualifying as a costs lawyer will equip practitioners with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in an ever-changing workplace.

“We were pleased to see that ACL Training has devised a new course offering which meets our regulatory requirements while providing flexibility and choice to students, enabling the profession to attract a new generation of members from diverse backgrounds and pathways to the law.”

Meanwhile, Master McCloud was ruling in Hadley v Przybylo [2023] EWHC 1392 (KB), a case she described as “a complex and very serious personal injury claim” with a large claimant budget exceeding £1m.

The judge took the unusual step of ordering the parties to engage in ADR to seek to resolve issues in the budget before she would budget any outstanding phases.

She said: “My view is that a simple obligation to discuss and seek to agree is an insufficient encouragement to parties to focus their minds on really working to resolve issues, where one often sees that (once the time and trouble of attending a costs management hearing has been incurred) the presence of costs professionals at court and immediately before so often narrows issues which could have been narrowed sooner.”

She directed the parties to engage in ADR in respect of their costs, “the professionals engaged in the ADR being appropriately experienced/qualified costs professionals”.

The ruling continued: “By the time the matter returned to me some time later, the parties had indeed engaged in ADR using qualified costs lawyers and all but one matter had been agreed on the budget, which I think speaks for itself in terms of saving time and money.”

Mr Ridgway said: “I hope that others will follow her example and draw on the expertise of costs lawyers in making budgeting as smooth a process as possible so that the parties can focus on the substantive issues.”

The ruling went on to consider whether solicitors’ time for meetings relating to a client’s rehabilitation needs and with Court of Protection deputies to inform the schedule of loss, could be included in a budget.

Master McCloud held that they could not but granted leave to appeal, and raised the possibility of leapfrogging the case to the Court of Appeal, given the issue’s importance.

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