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John M Hayes' Training Director David Smith looks at how the pilot has been progressing and identifies some of the key points to be aware of when it comes to starting billing in CCMS.
I think it is important to put this article into some context; when the idea of an online system was first suggested I thought it presented a great opportunity to make the billing process more efficient for the Legal Aid Agency, cost draftsmen and solicitors. The Legal Aid Agency had the chance to engage with Solicitors, Cost Draftsmen and Software Providers to design a system that would meet everyone’s needs and provide a genuine step forwards. Unfortunately having used the system within the pilot for the last few months I can say that, from a billing perspective, CCMS is very disappointing.
Firstly there is no getting away from the fact that the system is slow when moving between screens and additionally a large source of frustration has been the number of technical issues that have arisen. Everyone involved in the pilot will be familiar with periods where the system is down, or they are unable to log in or CCMS is unable to find live cases. From my experience there are far fewer problems when using the system outside of normal working hours which would suggest that it is struggling to cope with the number of users. This is not a good sign for when additional users are brought into the system! The Legal Aid Agency has stated that they are working on a fix to resolve performance issues, and hope to have it in place as soon as possible.
Aside from the performance issues we have found the way that the system is set up to be quite inflexible. When preparing bills it takes you through a series of questions that need to be answered to move onto the next screen. You can save a part completed bill, however when you return you have to click through every page again to get back to where you were. CCMS is far less sophisticated than bill preparation software currently available.
There are various training sessions available on the Legal Aid Agency’s website and additionally it is worth bearing in mind the following things when thinking about billing:
You can set your draftsman up with log in details; this will enable them to prepare the bill for you and leave it in draft form on the system ready for you to simply check and submit. They can also prepare the bundle of supporting evidence as normal which you can upload into the system. If you wish for us to deal with your billing in CCMS you can simply get in touch with us and we can advise you what you will need to do.
The final bill option is not available within CCMS until the solicitor has entered the outcome for the certificate into CCMS and confirmed that the certificate can now be discharged. This is a change from non CCMS cases and it is important that you make sure that the costs limitation is sufficient before recording the outcome and discharging. If you are in any doubt about whether you have exceeded the limitation ask your Cost Draftsman to establish the level of costs before you record the outcome and discharge the certificate. It is possible to extend a cost limitation after a case has concluded however the certificate must still be live and you will need to show why it is reasonable for an increase to be granted at this stage (s11.18 of the Costs Assessment Guidance).
Initially it will only be your new cases that are dealt with in CCMS and then at a later stage the Legal Aid Agency will ‘migrate’ your old cases into CCMS. Some firms in the pilot have now been through the migration process; they were given a migration date and informed that they were to stop submitting paper bills to the Legal Aid Agency two weeks prior to migration. Anything that had not been billed at that stage had to be billed in CCMS post migration. Assuming that the Legal Aid Agency will deal with the migration in the same way for tranche 1 and 2 this is something to monitor to ensure that any claim1/1a forms that have been prepared are submitted before the deadline or the information will have to be transferred to CCMS.
Should you require any further information regarding how we can assist please do not hesitate to contact your regional John M Hayes office.