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Jackson backs ACL’s progress in reforming the way solicitors bill their costs


Jackson: commended ACL report

Lord Justice Jackson has urged a working group looking at a new way of presenting solicitors’ costs to continue its work “with all due expedition”.

He commended the first report [2] of the Association of Costs Lawyers’ (ACL) Jackson working group, issued last week, which is designing a model bill of costs which satisfies the judge’s desire for a document which provides a more transparent explanation of the case, a user-friendly synopsis of the work done and is inexpensive to prepare.

It is also working towards the bill being in an electronic format that can be used throughout the whole costs process – from the moment a solicitor is instructed through to the issue of the final costs certificate.

Chaired by solicitor turned costs lawyer Debbie Burke, the group comprises costs specialists in both independent practice and in-house at law firms, including Irwin Mitchell partner and head of costs Steven Green, as well as barrister Dr Mark Friston of Kings Chambers in Manchester.

Among those from whom it has sought help are HHJ Simon Brown QC – who ran the Birmingham costs management pilot – and Andrew Dey, head of operations, legal & compliance at Barclays Bank.

The group recommended presenting claims for costs by reference to ‘phases, tasks and activities’, rather than in a largely chronological format as currently happens and is now widely deprecated by costs judges for not providing the information they need on assessment.

The report said the starting point should not be the bill of costs itself, but the data which makes up the claims for costs, which could then be put to many uses in addition to the bill of costs that is placed before the court for detailed assessment – such as generating invoices and preparing budgets.

The report laid out a timetable to design, pilot and introduce the new bill of costs, initially on a voluntary basis before making it compulsory for bills of at least £100,000 and then mandatory for all bills. This could take up to seven years, it warned, recognising that law firms will have to update their practice management software, a process that most will have to do anyway over the next five to seven years in the normal course of business.

Meanwhile, the High Court has rejected a claim that a costs lawyer regulated by the ACL cannot delegate advocacy to a non-qualified member of staff under his supervision.

In Kynaston v Carroll [2011] EWHC 2179 (QB), Mr Justice Burnett upheld an earlier ruling by Master O’Hare that the costs of the junior employee of Compass Costs in appearing at a hearing could be recovered.

Amanda Ashton, the chairman of Compass Costs, said the ruling “establishes that costs lawyers are on an equal footing with solicitors when it comes to the people they employ” – although she cautioned that costs lawyers need to make sure that their professional indemnity insurance extends to employees.