As the recent ‘Trials and tribulation’ article on the Jackson reforms pointed out, predicting and controlling costs is at the heart of the reforms. Thoughts though now need to turn to the immediate requirements under the new system.
The most basic of these is that solicitors need to ‘tag’ work in their time-recording system by phase. If this is not done at the point of entry (that is, when the work is done), then it will have to be done retrospectively either by solicitors or their costs specialists. Unless the work is properly described in a firm’s time-recording system it will be necessary to revert back to the file itself, whether paper or electronic. This will be both time-consuming and costly. The necessity to record work accurately – and more fully – will be a new discipline for many solicitors but it is one that they will have to master.
It is not only future work that will need to be ‘phased’ – work done to date also needs to be reviewed. The guidance notes on completion of the budgeting form Precedent H state that pre-action work only goes into that phase of the budget if it does not belong under another phase. Solicitors therefore need to allocate work already done to the relevant phase such as witness statements, expert reports or disclosure.
It goes without saying that this exercise should start with those cases that are closest to issue. The fee-earner in control of the case will be the best person to decide which work falls into each phase but otherwise firms should use their costs specialists to carry out this task. Indeed, the future use of costs experts throughout the life of a case (rather than just at the end) is arguably the most important ‘new’ discipline that solicitors need to master.
Sue Nash, Costs lawyer and founder of Omnia, High Wycombe, Bucks