Prepare for problems with new electronic bill, say costs lawyers – but don’t panic

Stark: Teething problems inevitable

The Association of Costs Lawyers has sought to calm fears about the electronic bill of costs – which became compulsory in the county court and Senior Courts Costs Office from last Friday – even though it said significant teething problems “are likely”.

The rules on the new bill apply to all multi-track claims, except those in which the proceedings are subject to fixed costs or scale costs, where the receiving party is unrepresented, or where the court has otherwise ordered.

It is in the form of Precedent S, although practitioners can use any other spreadsheet format so long as it meets the requirements of paragraph 5.A2 of revised Practice Direction 47.

They can choose how to present any work done before 6 April 2018 – that is, in the old or new format – but any work done from today must be an electronic bill.

But, the ACL pointed out, there is a get-out clause – either on application by the parties or of its own motion, the court can disapply the requirement for an electronic bill.

Chairman Iain Stark said: “We are concerned that some judges have yet to receive training and/or the technology to view the bill from the bench, so this could initially be a popular course.

“The reality is that some firms of solicitors are ready for ‘E-Day’, and have adopted the J-Codes model of recording work by phase, task and activity. Others still work from paper files. It will be a bumpy ride for them at first.”

ACL council member Claire Green has been leading the association’s work on the electronic bill, and said the new bill would be a work in progress for some time, for judiciary, practitioners and the rule committee alike. The practice direction was likely to need updating quickly.

She added: “The new bill will change the whole ethos and environment we’re working in, and we are concerned that too many people seem unaware of what’s coming.”

Work in progress includes the ACL’s version of the bill, with its technical team currently updating version 16. Ms Green described Precedent S as “very complicated”, saying that she was working towards “getting everyone to use the ACL bill”, although any format that complied with certain requirements was acceptable.

The new bill is one of the last of Lord Justice Jackson’s recommendations to be implemented, and the judge himself said recently that it was bound to save time and costs.

“I predict that in three years from now people will be amazed that we had put up with the old paper-based bill for so long,” he said in his final speech before retirement last month.

Mr Stark said: “It is inevitable that there will be teething problems – in all likelihood significant ones – with such a huge change to the world of costs. It happened before, with the Woolf reforms, and everyone survived.

“None of the problems will be insurmountable. For us, it’s about getting the message out that costs lawyers stand ready to help – solicitors should not be scared of this.”

    Readers Comments

  • Bryan King says:

    I’d be interested to hear what my cost management colleagues think about the prospect of several different versions of the new bill of costs? I thought that it was difficult enough to work with the multi-versions of paper bills but surely an opportunity has been missed to standardise the electronic bill. We now have Prec S, the ACL version and the prospect of others to come. Why does the profession never learn?

  • Tony Guise says:

    I was the representative of the Law Society of England Wales on the New Bill of Costs Committee. Despite strenuous opposition I managed to persuade the Committee to put the implementation date back from September 2015 to this month. In my view this should have been April 2019 to allow the Profession time to implement the training and software required. It should save a lot of time and make life better for law firms and clients alike.

Leave a Comment

By clicking Submit you consent to Legal Futures storing your personal data and confirm you have read our Privacy Policy and section 5 of our Terms & Conditions which deals with user-generated content. All comments will be moderated before posting.

Required fields are marked *
Email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.