The Legal Services Board (LSB) has approved a significant revamp of the costs lawyer qualification.
The proposal from the Costs Lawyer Standards Board (CLSB) followed a comprehensive review of its qualification regime.
To qualify as a costs lawyer, students need to pass the three-year course and undertake three years of supervised practice; most ‘earn and learn’ at the same time.
As well as revised aims and objectives, changes include examinations at the end of each year, rather than just the last year, a marking regime that now allows for passes with merit and distinction, and credits indicating depth of study.
The first two years of the course covers all the fundamental building blocks to become a costs lawyer – from knowledge of procedure to ethics and advocacy – while in the third year there are options to allow for specialisation. Students have to study three of five modules covering personal injury/clinical negligence, land law, family law, criminal law and company/commercial law.
A statement from the CLSB said: “The CLSB, despite its small size, was well and truly ahead of the game in that it both identified and actioned changes needed in advance of the Legal Education and Training Review report even being issued. This CLSB-led initiative now provides a firmer and targeted educational platform for the future of the profession.”
Murray Heining, chairman of the Association of Costs Lawyers, said the new regime “will ensure that the many students looking to enter the costs profession have an up-to-date and fit-for-purpose education”.
However, the LSB has rejected the CLSB’s application to regulate trainee costs lawyers, finding that the regulator had not produced sufficient evidence that it was a proportionate response to the issues identified.
The CLSB said that as most trainees work while they study, they should have to abide “by the same level of professional expectation as their fully qualified colleagues”.
It would have added another 286 people to those currently being regulated, an increase of approximately 50%.
The LSB focused in particular on the argument that because trainees could in some circumstances conduct reserved legal activities – such as appearing in court if they had the judge’s permission – they should be regulated. It said that as “no problems have been reported for trainee costs lawyers representing clients in court, an across-the-board requirement on all trainees as a class cannot be justified”.
The CLSB said: “The CLSB is disappointed and frustrated that the LSB has refused to allow them to set and maintain standards of trainee costs lawyers who ‘earn and learn’. The application was based on a sound understanding of the profession we regulate and had consumer protection at the forefront. It was supported by the ACL and received support via the public consultation process.”
Mr Heining added: “We are disappointed that the LSB failed to recognise the public interest in ensuring that trainee costs lawyers, who can advise the public and solicitors immediately, are properly regulated and overseen by the CLSB.
“We will continue to work with the CLSB to find a practical solution to the issue of ensuring that trainees adhere to appropriate ethics and standards of delivery.”