Legal Costs Expert Urges Firms To Seek Advice Ahead Of Embracing ‘Controversial’ New System

PIC Expands To Accommodate Increased Demand Ahead Of Industry Changes

Leading costs law experts have today urged firms from across the country to put plans in place to tackle a series of ‘controversial and challenging’ changes to the way case costs are submitted and calculated that are due to come in to force over the next 12 months.

The call to action from costs firm Partners in Costs (PIC) comes ahead of the roll out of J-Codes – a set of costs codes designed to enable Judges and Costs’ Judges to summarise and analyse time worked and costs incurred throughout a case – next April.

The changes will also coincide with a new model bill of costs; with the mandatory pilot scheme due to commence on 1st October 2016.

According to PIC, which rolled out a national training programme to ensure staff were prepared for the changes after they were announced last year, the new regime could prove a ‘costly experiment’ if firms act before considering their preferred approach in the longer term.

With experts at the claimant-only firm having spent the last twelve months consulting with experts in the US where a similar system was introduced approximately 20 years ago, Director and Costs Lawyer Teresa Aitken said: “On paper, the introduction of a set of codes which are allocated to the various costs incurred throughout the process of a case sounds ideal. Action taken, code assigned. The reality, though, is somewhat different.

“There are over a thousand different permutations of the J-codes; and whilst many of the firms that have consulted with us over recent months start off thinking that the allocation of said codes can be delegated to a non fee-earner in the office, with further explanation it becomes clear that it is only the solicitor managing the case in hand that would really be able to do so with any sort of accuracy.

“In addition to the codes, a description is required of the task which will be different from simply reiterating that which is contained within the attendance note itself.

“It’s time consuming, and it will add a considerable number of non-billable hours to a lawyer’s time sheet. Not to mention that the software recommended to engage with the new J-Codes will be costly, as well as the risk of bills being submitted for approval by the courts being reduced significantly if errors are identified.

“According to the leading Legal Costs Auditors in the USA, the whole premise has fallen flat there, with many firms reverting to more traditional costs calculations methods having been left considerably out of pocket as a result.”

In order to take on increasing demand from clients across the country PIC recently announced that it had established a regional presence in the South West and the North East, as well as doubling its London-based team which operates out of offices on New Bridge Street, close to the Royal Courts of Justice to serve clients in the capital and across the South East.

Teresa Aitken said: “Our team has spent a considerable amount of time undergoing training in order to become au-fait with the codes themselves as well as to be in a position to advise our clients on what the best approach moving forward is for them.

“In some instances, further to a review of current ways of working and existing IT infrastructure, we have concluded that a move towards adopting the J-codes is the right decision for some firms. However, with a sizeable financial outlay needed for specialist software, as well as significant training on how to correctly assign each of the 1000-plus codes, the vast majority of our clients have chosen not to embrace the change.”

The firm, established in 1996, is best known for offering a unique, flexible service in which Costs Lawyers work out of the offices of clients during a case to help drive efficiencies and keep down costs.

With offices in Manchester, Doncaster, Norwich and London, as well as teams operating out of the South West, the Midlands and the South East, the firm now employs over 100 members of staff; including more than 70 professional Solicitors, Costs Lawyers and Costs Consultants specialising in Civil Litigation claims including personal injury ranging from catastrophic injury to clinical negligence and court of protection matters, as well as professional negligence and commercial cases.