Diary of a legal aid lawyer

Diary of a legal aid lawyer: Avoiding costing jeopardy

The LAA costs assessment guidance rules often seem overwhelming and full of potential pitfalls. But there are ways to help avoid issues when costing your file at the end of a case. Some may seem basic, but it’s surprising how often they’re overlooked.

For example, it’s important to check your funding certificate and ensure the correct funding scope and level of representation is in place. If new applications are listed during the proceedings, check and amend scope where necessary.

Evidence your work

Providing sufficient information is vital to show the work was reasonable and proportionate. If you spend time reading long or large volumes of documents, are they relevant to your client? Prepare a file note with the number of pages, why it is relevant, information obtained, and views of how it can be used in the case. Remember we have to upload file notes for any pieces of work of three hours or more on submission of claims.

Expertly plan expert reports

The LAA has guideline hourly rates and hours allowed for preparation of reports by experts. If your expert has a higher hourly rate or no guideline rate, apply for Prior Authority. If further work is ordered at the same higher rate, you’ll need to apply again for Prior Authority. When using experts, prepare a precedent letter setting out legal aid guidance on elements such as what to include in their invoices. To prevent potential rejection of your claim, check their invoices; are the costs divided in accordance with the Order and does it have the required information such as breakdown of hours, hourly rates, travel details including mileage and copies of hotel receipts?

The direction for experts is always carefully scrutinised – particularly where there’s an unequal division of costs. This can happen when a party can’t afford to contribute towards the costs. So ensure the Court carries out a financial assessment of that party, which is then reflected in the Order, confirming they do not have the funds to pay/are to pay a limited amount.

Charge the correct FAS rates for hearings

The Order must contain the necessary FAS provisions with timings of the hearing (including pre-hearing discussions and time drafting the Order), any applicable bolt-ons, and/or bundle fees. If you’re unsure, check the Civil Claims Rates Calculator.

For public law proceedings, only two advocates meetings are expected per case – any additional meetings must be ordered. Under high cost CCFS plan rules, to claim the event fee for advocates meetings, these must be ordered in advance in the main body of the Order.

Finding more confidence

The LAA “Help us Say Yes” webinars on civil billing are a great resource for useful tips and provide an opportunity to ask any questions you have.

In-house training on LAA guidance is excellent for building colleague confidence, as it means everyone knows what they can or can’t charge for and what evidence is required. We found it helpful to create our own internal legal aid manual to guide colleagues through subjects such as CCMS applications, precedent orders and guidance on complex subjects like the statutory charge.

By Polly Hall, Head of Legal Aid Costing and Maureen Craddock, Legal Costs Draftsperson

The Family Law Company will return with a new entry to their diary of a legal aid lawyer each month, available exclusively on Today’s Family Lawyer.

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