The Jackson reforms introduced in April 2013 brought many changes to the way in which litigation is run in England and Wales. The cost management aspects of the legislation are one such change; one that has had a notable impact on law firms carrying out disputes work.
Those firms that were not already using a more advanced cost management system had to change the way their business operated. Some inevitably delayed the change for as long as possible. In such cases, it was left to the cost draftsmen to check time-entry narratives manually to identify the relevant codes/phases that work should be allocated to and then align it with the Precedent H submission.
This meant significant non-chargeable time being incurred, simply because the firm was unable to track agreed budgets in real time.
Reed Smith took a more positive approach to this change. It saw the new legislation as an opportunity to refine our working practices by improving the way our lawyers estimate, understand and communicate costs-related information to clients from the outset.
We devised a list of practice group-specific codes that could be used generically across all contentious matters, mirroring in most cases the work-type breakdown of a Precedent H.
This in turn led to a plethora of advantages and client benefits that have improved efficiencies in cost management. It enables us to provide our clients with a higher level of clarity and control in terms of understanding where and how their investment is being spent, thereby increasing client confidence in our management of their matters.
Embracing change to improve the whole business
The Jackson reforms have provided law firms with the catalyst for a more innovative approach to contentious business through a change in approach that could vastly improve quality and efficiency from an internal, court and client perspective.
The client-value team at Reed Smith has gone further than this and now uses the same methodology to create and utilise practice group-specific codes for non-contentious practice areas in London.
The extra couple of seconds it takes a lawyer to record a time entry to the relevant code enables radically more meaningful matter analysis and costs management. It strengthens comfort and trust on the part of clients who recognise the efficiency with which their matters are being handled, enabling clients to be given an up-to-date progress and costs report on all aspects of their case at the touch of a button.
It also has a positive impact on e-billing, eliminating the issue of lawyers recording ‘block entries’ of time – one of the most common reasons for invoices being rejected or costs being challenged on assessments.
Further changes are anticipated later this year, with the introduction of the Jackson J code legislation. This new legislation will entail a more intricate breakdown of the phases, providing a more detailed look at phase and task codes.
Law firms should start preparing now for this further development and the opportunities that will arise as a result.
Ben Summerfield, is a partner and John O’Donoghue strategic pricing and legal project manager at Reed Smith