Thompsons Solicitors has given its response to the recommendations put forward by the Hutton Committee on a new bill of costs format.
The bill of costs is the current list of costs incurred by lawyers which are payable by the client. In his Final Report Lord Justice Jackson had recommended a more detailed, technology-based system which should make it easier for clients to see what their money is being spent on.
Suggested provisions include the ability to download an electronic version of the bill of costs at any time, displaying costs incurred at any given stage and providing the client with an idea of how much they are likely to pay at the end of proceedings.
Thompsons Solicitors’ Julian Caddick said: “There are many potential obstacles to the proposals, including the demands it puts on solicitors, clients and courts to have compatible software which will come with a hefty price tag at a time that, certainly in personal injury, costs are being squeezed as never before.
“These changes would impact on small-to-medium firms the hardest and, the prospect of solicitors having to retrospectively categorise costs for cases which could have been running for years before the changes came into being, would be a huge logistical, expensive and time-consuming task.”
One method which has been recommended to assist the introduction of electronic recording is the use of J-codes. These codes place costs into certain categories, attempting to clearly define the use of all costs incurred. The use of phases to categorise work has been in place since 2013, but the wider use of coding for bills could lead to arguments around how codes are classified and applied.
Mr Caddick continued: “Many of these recommendations have been made with large, corporate solicitors in mind who bill direct to their own client. For those working in the field of personal injury where the paying party is the losing party, costs negotiations are notoriously aggressive, adversarial and hostile.
“A new, more detailed bill of costs would lead to prolonged and unnecessary negotiations which these reforms are intended to avoid in the first place. We fear that a number of the Committee’s recommendations will only cause arguments which will not benefit either side in the long run.
“The suggested model may suit large, corporate firms who already have direct, e-billing processes in place (and whose representatives coincidentally dominated the panel that proposed it), but would be a huge departure for many personal injury firms, including ours.
“A prolonged pilot is necessary to judge the impact of the recommendations to ensure that all parties are satisfied and that the appropriate training (solicitors and judiciary) is provided before they take full effect. The recommended time frame is far too short for the changes to be properly tested and implemented for firms of all sizes and disciplines.”