The COVID-19 pandemic is presenting unprecedented challenges for everyone. This page provides advice for Costs Lawyers in relation to COVID-19, which will be updated as the situation develops.
CLSB staff are working remotely and all of our contact channels remain open.
We are here to support you with any queries you might have on regulatory or ethical issues in the current environment. We can’t give legal or employment advice, but we are available to talk through your concerns and provide guidance on your regulatory obligations.
Changes to CPD requirements
We know that social distancing measures are making it difficult to attend CPD events in person. In response to this, we have introduced a policy to enable Costs Lawyers to obtain all their CPD points for the 2020 practising year from remote learning activities (e-learning) if need be. You can find out more in our full policy statement.
We also recognise that some Costs Lawyers might be furloughed or otherwise not able to work for certain periods in 2020 due to COVID-19. The requirement to attain 12 CPD points for the year will be reduced by one CPD point for each full month that you’re not able to work. For example, if you were furloughed for two full months, you would only need to attain 10 CPD points in 2020. We will ask for evidence of your time away from work (such as a letter from your employer) to ensure that everyone is treated fairly.
Every day, more training and development activities are becoming available online, with events that would have been held in person being moved to virtual platforms. Our colleagues at ACL Training are running additional webinars and online courses. We know that many legal firms, chambers and sector bodies (like LawCare) are taking the same approach. If you are looking for virtual training in a particular area, the Association of Costs Lawyers might be able to help.
Whether you are a sole practitioner, business owner, consultant or employee, we want to support you in finding safe ways to provide continuity for your clients.
Your obligation to act in the best interests of your clients does not mean that you should put yourself or your colleagues at risk. However, it does mean that you should keep clients updated about changes to your working arrangements and explain any impact that these changes could have on the service you provide (such as your availability during office hours or your ability to meet agreed deadlines).
The legal services industry has, on the whole, responded nimbly to the challenges created by the coronavirus outbreak and many practitioners have been able to retain a full service on a remote basis. However, if your service is being curtailed, you should prioritise client matters where a delay could cause your client loss or distress (particularly where there is a risk of irremediable loss, such as a missed court deadline). Any clients whose matters are deprioritised on this basis should be informed as soon as possible and provided with information about likely new timeframes, if possible.
The government has issued guidance for employers, employees and businesses, including in relation to financial support that is available. The Information Commissioner’s Office has also issued guidance on key data protection issues relating to coronavirus.
HMCTS and the Ministry of Justice have issued guidance for practitioners about attending court during the pandemic. This guidance is being updated regularly and can accessed on the gov.uk website.
HMCTS has also put in place arrangements for the use of telephone, video and other technology to continue as many court hearings as possible remotely. Where physical attendance at court is required, you will need to follow the latest guidance on accessing court buildings.
The Association of Costs Lawyers has been providing bespoke advice to the profession about how to approach listed hearings. If you have queries in this regard, or have anecdotal information that might be useful to others, please contact ACL.
Costs Lawyers as key workers
The government has designated certain professionals as “key workers”. Key workers are being treated differently to the rest of the community in relation to government measures; in particular, the availability of school places for their children while schools are otherwise closed.
Key workers include people who are “essential to the running of the justice system”. The aim of this is to ensure the continued operation of courts and tribunals in England and Wales. The Ministry of Justice has provided clarification around the types of legal practitioners that are classified as key workers.
Being a regulated Costs Lawyer does not, in itself, mean that you are a key worker. However, you could be a key worker if you undertake certain types of work. The two key worker categories that are relevant to Costs Lawyers are:
- Advocates required to appear before a court or tribunal (remotely or in person)
- Other legal practitioners required to support the administration of justice including duty solicitors (police station and court) and barristers, solicitors, legal executives, paralegals and others who work on imminent or ongoing court or tribunal hearings
If you work on these types of cases or hearings, you will be classified as a key worker. If you intermittently fall into one of these categories, then for the limited time required to deliver the work, you will be a key worker.
Other support services
Our colleagues at LawCare are working hard to ensure that personal support is available to those who need it. Their helpline is open as usual and they are increasing capacity to handle additional demand. As a Costs Lawyer, you can access LawCare’s services free of charge.
LawCare are developing new resources in key areas of concern, such as working from home, managing uncertainty, anxiety and financial pressures. They are also producing free-to-download webinars for lawyers.
You can visit their website for updates and tips on working from home.