"Unprecedented rise" in number of students training to become costs lawyers

Stark: judges want to hear from those with recognised level of qualification

The number of people choosing to train as a costs lawyer has almost doubled during 2011 as the impact of several major forces – including the Jackson reforms and the  350-001 exam Legal Services Act – are felt in the costs sector, the Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) has reported.

It received 112 applications to take its training programme this year, compared to 65 in 2010.

Study leads ultimately to qualification as a costs lawyer, an authorised person under the Legal Services Act with independent rights of audience and to conduct litigation.

ACL chairman Iain Stark said one major factor was the growing  vcp-510 exam insistence of the courts that only those with rights of audience can appear in costs hearings – law costs draftsmen, who are not members of the ACL, have to rely on an out-of-date legal fiction that they are temporary employees of their instructing solicitor and so can ‘borrow’ their rights of audience.

Mr Stark said: “Following the recent costs management pilot in Birmingham and the current nationwide pilot in Mercantile Courts and Technology and Construction Courts across England and Wales arising out of the Jackson reforms, the profile and importance of costs has never been higher

. As such, judges increasingly want to hear from those with the relevant experience and recognised level of qualification.

“All litigators will have to get to grips with costs budgeting as part of these reforms and we are seeing more firms – including some of the largest in the City – deciding to bring costs expertise in-house so they can manage costs from the start.”

The increased status of costs professionals coupled with the continued downturn in the legal jobs market has changed people’s attitude towards a career in costs, Mr Stark continued.

“The unprecedented rise in student numbers demonstrates that people are starting to realise that there are other routes to a successful and rewarding legal career. Under the Legal Services Act, costs lawyers undertake reserved legal activities and enjoy the same benefits and status of many other legal professionals – including partnership in legal disciplinary practices.”

He said the costs lawyer route to qualification also supports the social mobility agenda in the legal profession, as students need only a minimum of four GCSEs to begin the training – those who have completed law degrees or postgraduate legal education can gain exemptions from parts of the programme.

The ACL said the term ‘costs draftsman’ now denotes an unregulated and unqualified person operating in costs and those who instruct costs draftsmen have no recourse to either the Legal Ombudsman or the Costs Lawyer Standards Board, the profession’s regulator.

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