Legal Services Board approves CLSB plan for two-year qualification

The Legal Services Board has approved the Costs Lawyer Standards Board’s application to amend the training and CPD rules, opening up the possibility of qualifying in less than three years.

The CLSB told the oversight regulator that, once the rule changes were implemented, it would investigate other possible means of entry – for example, apprenticeship, time served and a competency test.

Among other changes, the training rules:

– Increase in the minimum age of access to the Costs Lawyer qualification (CLQ) from 16 to 18;

– Remove the rule that the CLQ course cannot be completed in less than three years;

– Remove the requirement that a Trainee Costs Lawyer (TCL) is a member of the ACL, given that it is a voluntary membership body;

– Introduce a written appeal process if an application to become a TCL is refused by an accredited study provider;

– Introduce a 15% reduction per exempted module on the overall unit fee charged for training.

The changes to the CPD rules includes clarity on the points cap on activities and introduces up to three points for “receiving or delivering training in relation to practice management”.

In its application, the CLSB told the oversight regulator that removing the three-year rule would allow the modules to be re-worked to provide for the qualification to be achieved in two years.

The CLSB’s rationale for raising the minimum age to 18 was that nobody under that age had applied for the past five years and also that there are extra vetting and duty of care obligations on the training provider under employment law for the 16-18 age group.

The LSB said it was concerned that it could be perceived as a barrier to entry and queried why, in the context of the general move toward apprenticeships in the legal sector, the CLSB had decided to raise the age.

The LSB’s decision notice said: “The CLSB said that it is its intention to consider apprenticeships in the coming months and may explore apprenticeships further as an entry option. These will be subject to a separate review and set of rules, under which the age of entry will be considered further.”

The LSB noted that the CLSB’s approach to CPD was not in alignment with the LSB’s 2014 education and training guidance and the trend of some other regulators to move away from “an arbitrary hours-based points system”. The LSB’s guidance says the focus should be on allowing individuals and firms “to plan, implement, evaluate and reflect annually on training needs”.

The CLSB responded that it did not agree with the less prescriptive approach to CPD that has been adopted by some other regulators.

The LSB concluded: “While the CLSB’s policy approach to CPD is not wholly in keeping with the LSB’s education and training guidance, we do not consider this a reason in itself to refuse the application. We do, however, welcome the CLSB’s intention to monitor the impact of the training and CPD rules in three years when it says the impact of changes (such as automated bills of costs) has been evaluated.

“While the precise timing of a review is up to the CLSB, we would encourage it to review the impact earlier if it has the data to do so.”

CLSB chief executive Lynn Plumbley (pictured) said: “The CLSB is pleased the LSB has approved new training rules and CPD rules, which now sit under separate documents. The CLSB believes the new single CPD table provides greater clarity, more opportunity and ease of use. It also seeks to support ACL membership.”

Meanwhile, the CLSB has published its action plan on implementing the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) recommendations on increasing transparency in legal services, alongside all the other regulators.

The CLSB said “a significant proportion” of the recommendations were not applicable or not deliverable on the grounds that, as it only regulates individuals, it cannot make an entity employing Costs Lawyers comply with them, while those individuals may have “limited or no ability to force their employer into complying with CMA expectations of an entity”.

Moreover, some 92% of instructions to a Costs Lawyer are from lawyers, rather than direct from consumers or small businesses, who were the targets of the CMA report.

The regulator also cited proportionality as a factor against taking sweeping action. At the time of its response, the CLSB regulated 622 Costs Lawyers, of whom 12 worked in-house at a company (meaning the CMA expectations did not apply to them), and 246 for an entity regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), who would be captured by its action plan. This left 364 Costs Lawyers, of whom 107 were sole practitioners.

It added that “regulated numbers are likely to decrease” because of the introduction of the electronic bill of costs and Lord Justice Jackson’s likely recommendation to increase the application of fixed costs.

The main action the CLSB will take as a result of the recommendations, it said, would be to issue a guidance note to those Costs Lawyers who do not work in-house or for an SRA-regulated firm in respect of transparency on matters such as price, service, redress and regulatory status.

It said it would also monitor the work being led by the SRA to create a single sector-wide digital register of authorised practitioners, and provide the address and phone number of the employer of each Costs Lawyer on the public register on the CLSB website to enable better public access and search facility by location.

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Published date
14 Jul 2017

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