The Civil Procedure Rule Committee has recently decided to delay the mandatory introduction of the new electronic bill of costs until 6th April 2018. For most, this is very good news as the profession is remarkably unprepared for such a seismic change. The recent extension of the pilot is, however, the last. In short, you have six months to fundamentally change the way you record time or face a potentially hefty bill of your own.
The traditional bill of costs is based on a Victorian account book format and is considered uninformative. The new form bill, currently being piloted, is in the form of an electronic spreadsheet. There was virtually no take-up of the original electronic bill, Precedent AA, after a voluntary pilot began in the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO) in October 2015 following work done by the Hutton Committee. In October 2016, the Rule Committee made amendments to the bill being used in the pilot, issuing Precedent AB, allowing users to create their own versions so long as the versions included certain levels of information.
It has been almost two years since the original pilot was implemented, however at the time of writing, only three electronic bills have been filed at the SCCO. Due to the poor uptake, the Rule Committee has decided that making the new bill compulsory is the only way to get the profession to engage with the electronic bill of costs. The new bill was originally due to be implemented on a mandatory basis in the SCCO from 1st October 2017, however the scope of the mandatory scheme has now been widened to all county courts and accordingly has been pushed back to allow for IT upgrades to be rolled out, and for training of judges and court staff outside of the SCCO.
In practice, this means that costs incurred after 6th April 2018 will have to be shown in the new format for virtually all multi-track bills and practitioners need to understand what is required. For each item in the new bill a phase code, task code, activity/expense code must be assigned. There are 14 phases, 41 tasks, 10 activities and 13 expenses codes to choose from! By way of example, for the simplest of entries such as recording a routine telephone call with your own expert, the new bill would require you to select the ‘Expert Reports’ phase (P6), followed by the ‘Own Expert Evidence’ task (T15), finished off with ‘Communicate (Experts)’ activity (A5). In all, the new bill contains over 50 columns of data per entry.
Without a robust and reliable time recording system in place, the effort required to prepare a new bill of costs will be colossal. The cost of manually transposing information from a paper file is, at least in the medium-long term, unlikely to be recoverable. Even in the short term, paying parties are likely to dispute the additional time and costs taken to draft bills ‘long hand’ as solicitors have been on notice of the changes for over two years. Retrospectively applying codes to traditionally recorded work more than doubles the time taken to prepare a bill of costs and therefore the level of unrecoverable drafting time will be significant.
As regulated costs lawyers, Bidwell Henderson Costs Consultants Ltd has access to the Association of Costs Lawyers’ more workable version of the Excel-based bill that is intentionally far less rigid than Precedent AB. Bidwell Henderson uses market leading drafting software to produce a useable bill that will smooth the transition from paper bills. As the full bill is too wide to print, the specialist costs software also provides a word processer version of the Excel bill which utilises the essential information contained in the bill to make checking the bill much simpler for fee earners.
Bidwell Henderson can take details of your work done directly from your time recording system, whether you chose to record your work by using the Costs Budget Phases, the JCode Phases or the New Bill Phases, and upload it directly into their software to produce compliant bills swiftly and economically.
If you need help preparing your team or your systems for the forthcoming changes; or if you require assistance preparing/disputing a new format bill of costs, contact Mark Bidwell at email@example.com or call 03333 441 654. Bidwell Henderson Costs Consultants are a full-service costs firm based in Alfreton, Derbyshire. They have a 28-strong team of Costs Lawyers and Costs Draftsmen who undertake work in all areas of costs including budgeting, bill drafting, LAA claims, VHCCPs, advocacy and more.