J-Codes and the new format bill of costs
8th June, 2015
In September 2014 approval was given for the new ‘J-Codes’ integral to the development and roll out of new case management software. It is envisaged by Lord Jackson that the software will categorise every activity within the civil litigation process for time recording purposes, and “automatically generate schedules for summary assessment or bills for detailed assessment as and when required”. The new format bill produced will mirror the costs budget phases and one of the advantages (mainly for paying parties) is that it will be very simple to identify individual phases that exceed the budget.
In theory, it will do away with bill drafting. Clearly, that will not be the case in practice.
No matter how intuitive the software is, it is going to struggle to produce bills arising from any non-standard/issue based costs orders involving percentage splits, multiple parties etc.
Crucially, the system is only going to be as good as its user and will obviously rely on comprehensive and accurate time recording which, with the greatest of respect, most fee earners struggle with to varying degrees. In fact, if fee earners struggle with time recording now, it’s going to get a whole lot worse. Rather than simply record a lengthy file review or attendance, the fee earner will now have to split that time between any number of the individual phases the time may have related to.
One questions raised was whether the use of the new software will be a requirement or not. Alex Hutton QC, Chairman of the new bill format committee explains:
“It is not mandatory to use the J-Codes now, nor is it planned that it shall ever be so. Many one-man/woman band solicitors and certainly many litigants in person may be unlikely ever to do so. All that is planned is that there will be a model bill of costs in the relevant Practice Direction just like there is now but which will be our committee’s recommended bill based on the J-Code time recording system (although it will be able to construct from scratch not having used the J-Codes, just as now). It will however be much easier to prepare a bill like this having time recorded by the J-Codes, as it will not involve reinventing the wheel by a costs draftsman drafting a bill from scratch, but instead using the time recording system itself to generate both a Precedent H form and a bill of costs, and where the bill can easily be compared to whatever was allowed in the approved budget in relation to each phase.
That is the plan. It is obviously up to others if and when that plan comes in. While the senior judiciary have approved the J-Codes in principle, they have no official status at the moment in the rules. If and when the model bill of costs is changed in the rules to ours (and obviously that is up to others ultimately), then those who have been using the J-Codes from now will have a much easier time of it. But ultimately, at this stage, all we have done is publish them and it is up to others to use them or not as they see fit.”
Roll out of the new software was (optimistically) anticipated to be the end of 2015 but currently there is no indication of when it will actually be. It appears that for now Solicitors can hold off a little longer until they take on the additional burden of being part-time costs draftsman.