Liz Harris is the newest member of the author team for Quick on Costs. With over 20 years experience practicing in costs law, she is an accredited costs law specialist, and is regularly called as an expert witness in litigation.
Since mid 2011, Liz has played a lead role in restructuring Quick on Costs, and preparing it for relaunch. Embarking on what is likely to be a two-year process, she, along with fellow authors Roger Quick and David Garnsworthy, has outlined a three-stage plan for the project involving:
- revision of existing material: broad brush review and deletion of content which is historical or otherwise unnecessary;
- rewriting and addition of new content: bringing existing commentary up to date and expanding into new areas such as “costs and ethics” and “litigation funding”; and
- publication of new books: once revision and rewriting are complete and the service is relaunched in online and looseleaf formats, Thomson Reuters will publish new book titles by the same authors, focussing on the “lawyer and client relationship”, and “costs between parties”.
Aside from her work on Quick on Costs, Liz acts as chair of the Victorian Law Institute Advisory Committee for its new Costs Law Specialisation. Below she talks to us about her role at the Institute and what it means to be an accredited specialist.
Costs law is a relatively new field of accreditation. When was it first offered as a specialty and why did the Victorian Law Institute see fit to make it so?
Costs law was first offered as an accredited specialisation in 2010, and again in 2011. The process of approving an area of law as an accredited specialist area is quite stringent. In 2009, costs law was approved by the Specialisation Board as an area of law requiring highly specialised legal knowledge and skills. The Board recognised that the law in relation to legal costs is at the heart of the practitioner/client relationship, and in areas such as litigation, the question of costs recovery or payment is often as significant to a client as the substance of the dispute.
The Legal Profession Acts and the consequent more onerous cost disclosure provisions, the increasing public criticism of lawyer’s billing practices, and the level of cost incurred in some of the more well known “mega-litigation,” all highlight the increasing role of Costs Lawyers.
What does being Chair of the Advisory Committee for Costs Specialisation involve?
The Committee advises the Specialisation Board on the scope of costs law as a specialisation, sets the assessment procedure, including examination topics and questions, supervises the assessment process, and makes recommendations to the Board as to the accreditation of candidates.
One of our initial challenges was to establish guidelines about what the expected areas of knowledge of a Costs Lawyer are. Our Committee is comprised of 10 members, including a retired Taxing Master of the Victorian Supreme Court, Master Tom Bruce AO, and we were all surprised at the breadth of the areas of law which a Costs Lawyer is required to be aware of, once we began discussing what our day-to-day practices covered. Due to the nature of the work we do, we all need to be aware of court rules, practices and procedures in all federal jurisdictions, in all Victorian state jurisdictions, and in jurisdictions in other states, due to the national nature of legal practice.
Then there are sub-specialties such as personal injury law, with specific protocols, wills and estates, conveyancing and the like. The cost law aspects of the practitioner/client relationship are extraordinarily broad, ranging from retainers, and cost agreements, to ethics, alternative pricing and matter management.
With over 20 years in costs law behind you, were you able to learn anything new from the accreditation?
The establishment of the accreditation program highlighted the significant role Costs Lawyers can play in helping other practitioners and clients better manage legal work, utilsing legal project management skills and establishing matter budgets. We have vast experience about what is best practice in management of litigation in particular, and in planning future costs.
I have recently experienced judicial cost management first hand, as part of the Jackson Reforms in the UK, having been privileged to sit in the Birmingham Civil Court of HH Judge Simon Brown QC, who has been leading the trial of cost budgeting in the UK at the request of Lord Jackson. I’ve spoken at a number of conferences in the UK on legal project management and cost budgeting and am doing so in Washington in September. Recent amendments to the Civil Procedure Act (Vic) 2010 specifically empower Victorian judges to set cost budgets, and certainly Lord Jackson recognised judicial management of cases and costs is necessary to facilitate access to justice.
What does this accreditation mean for lawyers practicing in the field of costs, going forward?
Unfortunately, some practitioners still think of us as “costing clerks” sitting counting pages and folios. There are a number of non-lawyer “cost consultants” who have a good working knowledge of scales of costs and cost assessments processes.
However, one of the important aspects of accreditation is to distinguish Costs Lawyers as lawyers, and all that flows from that – the advocacy skills, the highly developed knowledge of the complex and evolving law relating to practitioner/client and inter-partes costs, the sophisticated appreciation of the complexities and strategic aspects of litigation, and the understanding of the often challenging nature of the lawyer/client relationship, and the ethics applying in each situation.
The lawyers who engage an accredited Costs Lawyer will be assured that they are engaging an expert in a complex field of law, who can assist them in delivering excellent services and outcomes for their client.