The Costs Lawyer Standards Board’s (CLSB) proposals to introduce a Costs Lawyer Competence Test (CLCT) as the route to qualification have been strongly opposed by the ACL in their current form.
Responding to the CLSB’s consultation, which closes tomorrow, the ACL cited new barriers to entry, concerns over consumer protection and the maintenance of standards as key objections.
The CLSB’s radical shake-up of training envisages moving to an outcomes-based model where candidates would qualify by passing the three-stage CLCT.
The ACL said the entry requirements would bar school leavers who did not hold a Level 6 qualification in law and were not in costs employment, as well as costs draftsmen with less than five years’ experience who did not have a Costs Lawyer to supervise them.
“This would restrict both horizontal and vertical mobility into (and out of) the profession,” it said.
Other examples of unequal treatment were the requirements for only some candidates to have pre-qualification workplace experience or to have worked under Costs Lawyer supervision.
The ACL said there was no evidence to support the CLSB’s contention that the CLCT would increase the number of Costs Lawyers.
It expressed concern too that the CLSB had not defined what the competence threshold would be – the minimum level of knowledge and skills necessary to perform at the point of qualification/regulation – nor how a CLCT-qualified Costs Lawyer would compare to one qualified under the present regime. It was also unhappy that work-based experience (WBE) would not be assessed.
Further, “there is no minimum amount of costs work-based experience for those that will qualify through the academic qualification route (or those that undertake the test by nature of their professional position)”.
Other concerns were the use of just ‘single best answer’ multiple-choice questions in the CLCT and the absence of tests for a wide range of costs beyond civil, such as Court of Protection, family and criminal law.
In a similarly critical response, ACL Training highlighted several errors in or omissions from the proposal, such as suggesting that advocacy skills were not currently tested or that legal aid work did not involve advocacy, the absence of an assessment of drafting skills, no mention of how candidates’ character and suitability would be tested, and no explanation of what would amount to WBE.
The response from the ACL’s Legal Aid Group (LAG) said it welcomed a more flexible and potentially lower-cost approach to qualification. But it continued: “However, candidates must still be adequately prepared for a career in costs law, especially a complex area such as legal aid (which can intersect with other areas such as inter partes and Court of Protection).
“Unfortunately, we cannot see how the current proposals will ensure that all suitable candidates will be of suitable standard, and further that they can access the qualification. After years of waiting for a change to the way in which candidates can qualify, this is very disappointing.”
The LAG said the requirement for those with less than five years’ costs experience to spend three years working under the supervision of a Costs Lawyers – and also complete 15 hours of CPD each year – would mean candidates likely having to secure “a junior (and most likely low-paid) position… and find the funds to pay for more CPD than is required of a regulated Costs Lawyer”.
It continued: “The business model/job which most legal aid costs professionals have to adopt/engage with in order to secure work in the post-LASPO climate does not facilitate this, making access to the CLCT impossible for many of these candidates…
“The requirement for those with under five years’ WBE is in stark contrast to candidates claiming that they have over five years’ WBE, who conversely simply have to submit evidence of WBE alone which it is confirmed will not be tested other than through the CLCT.
“This creates an inexplicable disadvantage/barrier for new talent and expertise coming into the profession, which the Costs Lawyer profession is dependent upon to ensure its longevity.”
The ACL Council is encouraging members and trainees to put in responses to the consultation. Click here for the details.
* Members should have received an email last week seeking nominations to fill a vacancy on the ACL Council. The closing date is 4pm on 29 June. Contact email@example.com for more information.