Newsletter – October 2022
Spotlight on… a vision for the costs community
Following my appointment as Chair of the Association of Costs Lawyers in April this year, and in fact prior to that, I asked myself if I could distil what I wanted as a member of the ACL into three words.
Modern, engaging, representative.
Those three words went on to form the kernel of the Association’s business plan and the Council’s approach. However, when I first said those words to a fellow Council member, they asked a question: why?
Not a challenge or a rebuke, a better question which in truth I wish I had the answer to – Why be modern? Why engage with the membership? Why represent our members?
This prompted perhaps the most important question, what is the goal of the Association and what are our values? Where are we seeking to arrive at, and what can we not afford to lose while getting there?
For the Association, this truly meant reminding ourselves of our roots: “to protect and promote the interests of Costs Lawyers to the consumer and wider legal profession; to encourage those working in, or wishing to join, the legal costs industry to become Costs Lawyers, and to contribute to the development of law relating to legal costs”.
The fact that many of the Costs Lawyers reading this are not members of the Association (35%) is not lost on me, but our mission never limited itself to Association members so neither do we.
I believe that all Costs Lawyers, members of the Association or not, would agree that the goal of the Association is one that should be pursued. Of course identifying a goal, or mission, is the easy part – those who came before me determined our mission.
Our values, in truth, reflect our mission, putting our community first, ensuring the Association is inclusive, and that we are proactive. I do not believe that the Association can be successful if Costs Lawyers think it is a ‘boys club’ or not for them. Nor can it succeed if it does not represent the breadth of our profession – which CLSB research shows is greater than many of our fellow legal professions. Lastly, I know you will not judge us on what we could have done but on what we did.
Knowing our mission and our values allows us to have a clear vision for what we want to do, and how we want to achieve it. Going back to April 2022, and those three words, the real questions for the Association were:
- how do we modernise the organisation while retaining its strengths
- how do we engage with a membership that wants different levels of engagement
- how do we represent such a diverse group effectively
The Association itself is a diverse organisation, with the main body being responsible for leadership, operations, the Legal Aid Group, oversight of entry to the profession via ACL Training, and arms-length oversight of the CLSB as the regulator of last resort. While the work done by previous Councils and the Head of Operations had been truly admirable, it was becoming clear that without further investment and modernisation, the Association would have to devote all of its efforts to simply treading water, rather than furthering our mission.
Sadly for the Association, Diane Pattenden, our Head of Operations, decided to retire in April 2022 to enjoy time with her family and travel the world following the lifting of covid travel restrictions. What could have become a crisis became an opportunity – in no small part due to Diane and Jo George, our administrator, ensuring a smooth handover and transition to our new Head of Operations – Carol Calver.
A change of leadership, at the executive and operational level, has allowed for a focus on modernising the organisation and freeing up time for a focus on issues that interest members. Many of the changes on the operational side this year have been behind the scenes, such as moving to new premises, recruiting a new Head of Operations, changing email provider and other back-office suppliers, utilising new technology, and cancelling subscriptions to systems which have become redundant. This has allowed us to focus on changes that you will be able to see.
Technology allows us to inform members, with the Costs Lawyer journal and e-bulletin given a refreshed format, more befitting the way we consume information.
Technology also allows us to connect people; a recent town-hall style event on the current CJC Costs consultation was only possible because of the use of Microsoft Teams and engagement was enhanced by Slido. The use of the Association’s social-media channels has also significantly increased over the past 6 months.
Engagement requires a multi-layered strategy. Not everyone wants to be a Council member or lead a working group; some members are very happy just to read their weekly newsletter and only voice their opinion on issues like suggested fee increases. Most members want to be somewhere between the two. There are members who want to engage with fellow members online, either due to location or other commitments, while others wish to return to interacting in person.
To help us understand how to engage our members, we recently undertook a survey – the first in several years. We asked various questions including, most importantly, what more could we be doing?
While the answers were myriad, the key themes were important:
- Members see representation as our most valuable aspect
- Members felt engagement had improved but want more ways to engage online and in person
- There is significant interest in new special interest groups
- Only 17% felt the Association was not value for money
Representation is a game of two halves. The Association has a strong track record of providing a voice for the profession to the judiciary and in response to consultations. Some recent consultations the Association has responded to, or is in the process of responding to, include:
- The electronic bill for use in Court of Protection cases
- Changes to the QOCS regime and vulnerability in relation to extended fixed recoverable costs
- Proposed regulatory performance framework by the Legal Services Board
- CJC Costs Working Group Consultation
- CLSB Disciplinary Rules and Procedures
- Regulatory arrangements for the Costs Lawyer Qualification
This is an area which we can rightly be proud of; in particular our engagement via surveys and the recent town-hall style meeting. The question going forwards is how best to ensure members feel they are fully engaged, and we continue to look for additional ways to do this.
Perhaps the poor, or forgotten, cousin in representation is how we represent members and the wider profession to the public and fellow legal professionals. This is a complex area given the representative needs of a member who specialises in legal aid, for example, are likely to be different from a member who specialises in international shipping. It is vital that we find the areas where we agree and focus our efforts there, with an eye to additional smaller campaigns focused on specialist areas and how Costs Lawyers add value.
There is much that can be achieved, however in trying to do everything at once, the Association would risk achieving nothing. The approach so far this year has been measured, and the pace tempered by several significant consultations. That said, it has become clear throughout the year that members want us to work on several new issues outside of the current business plan.
I am pleased to be able to tell Costs Lawyers that in 2023 the Association will:
- Make increased use of town-hall style meetings to enable improved engagement
- Work to update our website (which has not been refreshed since 2014) so that it is accessible and informative for members and the public
- Establish regional meetings where there is sufficient interest and members willing to lead such groupings
- Explore the establishment of special interest groups for those who primarily practise in Court of Protection or commercial costs
- Work with Blackletter Communications to launch a campaign promoting the benefits of instructing Costs Lawyers
Jack Ridgway, Chair of the Association of Costs Lawyers