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The Jackson challenge


CostsMaster: easy to use system

“Consideration should [also] be given to developing a single software system which can generate both cost budgets and bills of costs. The ultimate aim must be to harmonise the procedures and systems which will be used for costs budgeting, costs management, summary assessment and detailed assessment.

“Armed with such a software system, solicitors should be able to produce up to-date costs information for the client or schedules of costs for summary assessment at whatever level of generality may be required. Also, at the end of the case, the solicitors will be able to produce a detailed bill of costs, which can be used either for negotiating costs with the other side or for a detailed assessment hearing.

“Crucially, the costs software must be capable of presenting the bill at different levels of generality.”

Lord Justice Jackson, Final Report

CostsMaster [2] was originally developed about 15 years ago by our principal developer for his own use when he was a practising costs draftsman. Realising that there was huge potential and a yawning gap in the market for such a tool, the programme was developed to be marketed to costs draftsmen countrywide.

Over the subsequent years CostsMaster became the software of choice for a wide variety of customers, from the sole practitioner working from home to large firms of solicitors and firms of costs draftsmen with multiple licences.

Knowing that so many relied upon our software to prepare their bills, it was thus with enormous trepidation that the anticipated final report of Lord Justice Jackson was received in December 2009. Whilst CostsMaster was already able to fulfil many of the proposals of Jackson, it will come as no surprise to the reader to know that this was going to lead to the greatest series of challenges yet for the developers of the software – not least budgeting.

There has been no shortage of press about the challenges to be met by the legal profession as a consequence of the latest reforms, and as software suppliers to the industry it has been no easy feat to rise to them.

In his report Jackson LJ acknowledged that the development of the software would be an expensive process. What he did not acknowledge is the amount of time that it actually takes to develop. Software has to go through a rigorous testing process; first with alpha testers who have the very first drafts of the software, then with beta testers and finally a general release beta version, which is released to any clients who are willing to take a risk on crashes and glitches whilst using it in a ‘real’ setting. Consequently it is many many months, if not years, before a final version can be unleashed.

One Jackson recommendation was the integration of time recording and billing software systems. This was the first of the Jackson innovations to be addressed by CostsMaster. Data from solicitors’ own time-recording systems can be imported into CostsMaster. However CostsMaster is only a tool – it can’t make the judgments that a costs lawyer must make when presenting information for the court, an opposing party or for the client, but it can ease the process.

The requirement to produce case management budgets as from 1 April has meant that CostsMaster has had to be ready to implement the application of phases whilst, in common with the rest of the profession, not being in possession of the information to introduce the task element of the time records.

Given that the recommendations of Jackson LJ relied upon the three-tier ‘phase, task, activity’ system, this presented, and will continue to present, significant planning issues for our developers as the later introduction of the task description between the phase and activity is not a logical way to develop a programme. If our history so far is anything to go by, our developers will rise to, if not exceed, this latest challenge.

CostsMaster endeavours to provide a system which is easy to use. We believe that we have achieved that whilst catering for the many and varied ways in which our clients chose to use the software; we have to cater for the highly IT literate, to those who hate computers and would much rather use a paper and pen, if not parchment and quill.

For those who do have difficulty, we always have our CostsMistresses, the stalwart support ladies who deal with the most complex to the most simple query with equal patience and care.

We can never forget that the efficacy of our software has a profound effect upon not only the efficient process of billing for our clients but also, in the long run, on their reputations. Whilst the output from CostsMaster can only be as good as the information input, the end product is what is seen by other parties and the judiciary. Many still judge a book by its cover.

The very nature of our costs industry is also such that virtually every client wants to stamp their own mark on the final output of the bill. In this regard we will continue to build in the flexibility that has always been at the root of CostsMaster.

To number or not to number, that is the question…