Back to Basics – how to present your file to the SCCO
As some of you reading this may be aware, these past few months have seen me moving firms and I am now up and running at A & M Bacon, heading up their fast expanding Court of Protection Department.
I am delighted to have joined such a long established and renowned costs practice and am looking forward to delivering top service to new clients nationwide.
As a result of my move, I have spent the majority of this year getting back to basics; doing what I like best, why I started all this many years ago; drafting Court of Protection bills of costs!
My focus has always been on drafting bills and remaining at the coal face. I feel this puts me in the best place to advise on trends emerging from the Court of Protection Section at the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO). Trends? Maybe we should call them reductions! But moreover, advising on the pitfalls to be avoided to ensure your costs recovery is maximised.
I have been drafting many bills over the past few months for many different firms. I have seen various ways in which client firms present their files and record their time. I thought that I would go back to the very beginning and have come up with a couple of pointers outlining some of the very basics of file presentation and time recording to please the court and ensure the time spent on quantifying and assessing your costs is minimised. I daresay most of the content will be second nature to most, but there may be the odd tip here and there you find serves as a useful reminder.
How should I present my file?
There’s a simple answer to this question………logically!
I have worked on a number of files where clients have chosen to present their files based on the parties upon which the work has been undertaken (i.e. in order of parties). The court seems fully accepting of this. However, I would suggest that you remember to file work notes, letters and calls in chronological order, in case the court needs to inspect a letter or file note.
Another common pitfall in presenting your file this way is that sometimes it is not always easy to know where to file a document or attendance note. I have seen several matters where documents have been copied. Do remember the Costs Lawyer will not know your file as well as you and it is best to ensure copies of documents are not copied to other sections of the file. This will reduce the risk of duplicate items being included in your bill and ensure that the protected party (P), pays only what is reasonable.
In my experience, most of our clients simply present their files in chronological order. This is entirely logical and ensures the court will be able to easily locate attendance notes and/or supporting documents.
It will make the life of the costs officer easier if you can ensure file notes are filed in order. The costs officers are, we understand, under strict time pressures in which to assess your bill. They therefore will not have time to trawl through a file looking for an attendance note and if they cannot locate what they need, there is an increased risk your time will be reduced significantly, or even disallowed entirely!
Many firms also open new files for each deputyship year. This assists in record keeping (the costs recovered against the time recorded can be easily established and recorded) and breaks the matter down into neat “sections”. This also prevents the need for voluminous files to be sent to and from the court.
Top Tips on file presentation
- Ensure file notes and documents are filed in chronological order so they can be easily located by the costs officer if and when required.
- Ensure your file is clearly labelled so the court knows which file it needs when assessing the bill of costs.
- Try to avoid filing duplicated documents which will reduce the chances of an item being included twice.
- You may wish to flag up longer attendance notes (for example a note recording a lengthy meeting) to ensure the costs officer will be able to locate the note quickly if required.
- Ensure attendance notes are available on the file, just in case the court needs to be inspect them. If a note is missing or the costs officer cannot locate evidence of the work undertaken, they will reduce or disallow the item accordingly.
- Files should be neat, tidy and appropriately bound to ensure file notes and documents are not lost.
A & M, always flag up to our clients any missing notes prior to assessment, to ensure the same can be provided to ensure a complete file.
Do I need to lodge documents with the court?
This is a slightly tricky question. Whilst on more straightforward matters, the inclusion of documents does not really add significantly to the volume of the file, on more complex matters, boxes of documents can add to your files.
My advice here is that we do not wish to bombard the court with reams and reams of papers and documentation. We suggest that if you choose to keep a separate documents file, this is not required for the assessment. However, it is worthwhile bearing in mind when recording time for working on documents to state, within the time record, the length of the document, so the court can appreciate the need for the time spent on a certain document, and therefore increase the likelihood of the item being recovered as claimed.
What about paperless files?
This is a question I am often ask and periodically raise this query with the court. As nice as it would be to be able to submit an electronic file (whether by CD/DVD or memory stick), due to cyber security issues, virus protection and compatibility issues, the court is currently unable to accept files presented in this way, at present. You will be required to print of your file if you are paperless.
That said, if you are a paperless office, and record your time onto a ledger, we will be able to draft your bill from the ledger and the CD/DVD file. This will save you having to courier your entire file to a Costs Lawyer and once we have completed your draft bill, you can simply print your papers required for assessment and lodge the bill with the court.
Paul Cruickshanks, Costs Lawyer & Head of Court of Protection