Our legal aid teams say they often worry about high-cost cases and what it will mean but, in fact, they shouldn’t actually cause anxiety. I’ve put together simple tips which, when followed, will help you maximise costs recovery and make planning easier.
What to think about when registering cases
- Cases should be registered when you believe the overall costs in the case will exceed £25,000. This includes your profit costs, disbursements and Counsel fees.
- The registration template on the LAA’s website contains all of the information the LAA need to consider when registering the case. There are also draft case plans, both blank and completed, which are useful to look at.
- Traditional case plans are subject to strict deadlines: 4 weeks after registration for the first case plan with updates for the next stage of work made within 4 weeks of a stage concluding. Diarise filing dates and the deadline for updating your case plans. If you know you can’t meet that deadline, let the LAA know in advance by case enquiry, and seek an extension.
- If you are registering but your case is concluding in the next 6 weeks, you can seek permission to file a claim 1 in lieu of a case plan after the case concludes. The LAA normally grant 4 weeks from conclusion of the case to do so.
How to manage case plans
- When drafting the case plan, try and have clear end dates for each stage. Stages are usually drafted to the next listed hearing. This gives you a set time frame to estimate for, which in turn will make it easier to estimate costs.
- Attach as much evidence as possible to your case plan for your estimated expert, disbursement and Counsel fees, including Orders for experts and written estimates.
- Even if your matter is high cost, you should still apply for prior authority when required in the normal way. Attach copies of any prior authority with your evidence.
- The HCC unit no longer assesses pre-contract costs, which are instead now assessed by the LAA finance team. However, the HCC unit will still need to see the overall pre-contract figures reflected in your case plan. You cannot submit your interim pre-contract claim for payment until an agreement has been reached with the HCC unit and a signed contract has been uploaded.
What to do if the LAA seeks reductions
- If the LAA seek reductions to your costs, consider whether you can make counter proposals to see if you can reach an agreement. Remember it can take around 4 weeks for the HCC unit to respond which can mean lengthy timescales for negotiations. If you are unable to agree the costs, you can then refer the matter to an Independent Costs Assessor (ICA) who will make a final decision. The ICA is not bound by previous offers to settle, and they will make their own independent decision.
What to do if there are unexpected costs?
- If you have an unforeseen event such as an urgent hearing which is going to result in additional costs not provided for you in your plan, let the HCC unit know as soon as you can by case enquiry. Ask to upload an amended plan with the unforeseen event costs included.
Once a stage concludes and if the costs have been agreed, you can then submit an interim bill for the costs within the stage.
Written by Polly Hall, Head of Legal Aid Costing at The Family Law Company.