John M Hayes are always thorough and meticulous in the preparation of bills but more importantly than that they are very approachable and willing to help. Dealing with them is a pleasure.
Brendan McNeany, Partner, Samuel Phillips
Two representatives from the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) attended the recent Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) conference to give a demonstration of the on line Client and Cost Management System (CCMS). The system is currently being piloted in the North East.
CCMS will cover applications for funding, the processing of queries, amendments, payments on account, final billing and appeals for civil representation cases. All current and future cases will be managed in this new way once it has been introduced.
The way that the system is set up means that when applying for a new certificate, the Applicant will answer a series of questions determined by the previous answers given so that only the information required is provided. You will be unable to submit the application until all of the questions have been dealt with, which should prevent applications not being processed because they are incomplete. The system will advise on what evidence is required in support of the application.
When it comes to billing a file, the information will be entered directly onto the system. Log in information can be provided to your costs draftsman who can save a draft submission for the Solicitor to check and submit. Electronic copies of the documents can be attached when submitting the claim. There were a lot of questions about the billing aspect of the system and the LAA representatives were not able to answer many of them. As a result they were asked how many bills have been submitted in the pilot so far, the answer was 2!!! Although many applications for legal aid have been done in the pilot, the majority of the cases have not finished yet so they have not suitably tested the billing. We anticipate many early "teething" problems when this is introduced due to the lack of testing.
It was possible to see some potential positives with the system as it stands. For example when logging into a case on line, it will show you (in theory) any periods of show causes, how much has been paid to Counsel and the Payments on Account claimed to date.
Although the LAA was unable to give definite dates, its initial aim appears to be to introduce it in 2013 (although there was much scepticism that the LAA would be able to achieve this based on the current state of the pilot). When it is introduced, it will be done nationally in three ‘tranches’ based on alphabetical order. Each firm will be given 12 weeks' notice of their start date and will be encouraged at that stage to go through the on line training to be ready to use it. The LAA stated that they would be able to monitor who had been accessing the training. As well as the on line training there are some useful quick guides that can be downloaded once you have registered for the training and it is going to be important to make sure that you are fully prepared for the new system.
When the idea of online case management was first mentioned we thought it was a great opportunity to help reduce the difficulties that are encountered with processing of applications and bills. Whether the online CCMS achieves this remains to be seen but our early impressions are that we may see a number of problems arise if the LAA maintains their plan to have this fully introduced in its current format in 2013.
You can visit the following site to take part in the online training modules: