The clock is ticking to improve solicitors’ time recording, as new electronic form bill of costs is set to become mandatory in October 2017

The Hutton Committee set up in May 2016 has unanimously approved a revised electronic bill of costs, the application of which is now on course to become mandatory in respect of work done on or after 1 October 2017, with the final date to be confirmed in May 2017.

The 86th Update to the Civil Procedure Rules contains a “New Bill of Costs Pilot Scheme”, set out in Practice Direction 51L, which extends last years’ pilot scheme for trialling the new electronic bill of costs in the SCCO by a further year.

Problems contained in the original prototype bill have been ironed out, notably in relation to the overreliance on “J-Codes”, the set of specialist codes originally designed and developed at the Jackson Committee to capture solicitors’ time in a way which can be automatically generated into the new form bill. In the new Practice Direction, there is no requirement to use, or even mention of J-Codes. All the new bills must however follow the same format, set out in form Precedent AB, which has been created as an Excel workbook, with work carried out split into “phases” of the litigation, “tasks” carried out within those phases and “activities” contained within those tasks, where the level of description will bear more of a resemblance to the types of descriptions contained within detailed bills at present.

There will also be a table comparing budgeted to actual costs incurred in costs-managed cases. This will aim to provide a clearer comparison than what is currently available in phased bills and their accompanying precedent Q forms, where there is little uniformity in bills being presented before the Court and seek to reduce budget overspends.

While the non-mandatory implementation of J-Codes will come as welcome news to many, the requirement for work to be split into phase, task and activity will render accurate time recording more important than ever, if recoverability is to be maximised.

Jackson LJ has also floated the idea of introducing fixed costs for preparing the new bills. Whether this suggestion will materialise and whether or not it will only apply to bills produced utilising J-Codes, remains to be seen. What is clear however, is that a new dawn in solicitor’s time recording and bill preparation, aiming to make the best and most effective use of technology, is now imminent.

Hannah Riordan is an Associate in the Costs and Litigation Funding department at Clarion Solicitors. You can contact her at Hannah.riordan@clarionsolicitors.com, or the Clarion Costs Team on 0113 222 3245.

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