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Costs update: Court of Protection

Back to Basics – how best to record your time and ensure your work is recovered

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 for you and remaining at the coal face. I feel this puts me in the best place to advise you 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 you on the pitfalls to be avoided to ensure your costs recovery is maximised.

I have been drafting many bills over the past six 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 articles 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 hope you will find this useful. I daresay most of the content will be second nature to you, but there may be the odd tip here and there you will find serves as a useful reminder.

And as always, if there’s anything you may wish to discuss, please don’t hesitate to contact either myself or my colleagues at A & M who will be more than happy to assist.

What information to I need to include in my attendance note?

In order to ensure your bill is accurately prepared, the following basic information is required:-

  • Date upon which the work was undertaken
  • The name of the conducting fee earner
  • How long was spent doing the work
  • Details of the work undertaken

In addition, letters (which are evidence in themselves that they were prepared) should clearly identify who drafted them, so they can be appropriately claimed. Further, a brief note either on the letter itself or supporting attendance note should be provided for longer letters that take more than the routine six minute unit.

Is there anything else I should include within my attendance note?

In my recent experience, most reductions made by the court relate to preparation or document work.

  • The more detail included regarding work undertaken the better. Bullet points are a quick and easy way to record work, which the costs draftsman can expand upon when drafting the bill.
  • When reviewing or preparing documents, time can be justified by quantifying the documents reviewed or drafted, e.g. drafting four page letter to P’s family, or considering 27 medical report.
  • By quantifying the length of the document (outlined above) and stating how the consideration of an issue is progressive to the matter, this will improve your chances of recovering the time taken.
  • Detail any complications encountered when undertaken the work that add to the time spent.

Anything I shouldn’t include?

There are certain phrases that should be avoided when preparing your note and these include:-

  • Meeting with deputy (the court regards such time as supervision or overheads and will disallow this; the likelihood is that you are considering an issue with the deputy so far better to mark the time as consideration time……and agree whether you or the deputy will claim the time as the court will only allow the time for one fee earner).
  • Research of the law; the court states that a lawyer should know the law and will therefore disallow any work undertaken in this regard. Again, better to state you are considering rather than researching!
  • Delegating; one thing I have noticed is a deputy or senior fee earner recording time for delegating work. Again this is disallowed as overheads. Think about what is being considered and how the wording of your attendance note can be manipulated to ensure this time is recovered.
  • Supervision; akin to delegating above, but this will be disallowed as overheads/supervision.
  • File audits; the court will more than likely disallow time for routine file reviews and file audits. Think about the issues reviewed and how said review will progress the matter and word your attendance note to reflect this.

A couple of final points

A few further trends have emerged recently relating to common reductions made by the court. The following tips are designed to ensure you are aware of these and can take steps to avoid your work being reduced:-

  • The court will reduce any payments to half a unit as a grade D rate. Many clients have elected to claim this at the outset.
  • It is notoriously difficult to recover the time for more than one fee earner attending meetings save for extremely exceptional circumstances.
  • The court will seldom depart from the guideline hourly rates published. Many clients have elected to adopt the appropriate rates for the area in which their practice is located. However, do remember these a guideline rates and if a case is exceptional, an enhancement can be applied.
  • The OPG expects at least one visit on the protected party/their family per year and the court will generally allow reasonable time for these visits. However, we have noted that additional meetings with parties are usually allowed, but these need to be justified.
  • One of the court’s favourite reductions is to senior fee earner time. Ensure that routine work is delegated to legal assistants. If you don’t have the luxury of a large team with junior fee earners, you may wish to consider adopting a lower hourly rate for senior fee earners undertaking such work.

I hope you will have picked up some pointers from this article and as previously mentioned, should you wish to discuss any issues arising or have any queries, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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