Focus on quality

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The Chair of the LSB’s consumer panel has called for an increased focus on quality in the provision in legal services.

Dianne Hayter said that a lack of checking of the quality of work, and “light touch” requirements for lawyers to show continuing competence, suggested that regulators as well as consumers were making “heroic assumptions” about quality. “Regulatory activity focuses on entry requirements and disciplinary processes. Unless an issue arises, there are few proactive checks to ensure that professionals remain competent. Quality checking mechanisms, such as peer review and chambers’ monitoring, focus on process rather than the substance of the advice”.

It will be interesting to see how the Association of Law Costs Draftsmen grapples with these issues having already stumbled at the “entry requirements” part of the regulatory process.


No to City rates

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A number of readers of the Legal Costs Blog receive this via email or feeds.  They will therefore usually miss out on some of the interesting comments that are added by those who read online.

On a previous post, on the subject of whether personal injury work should attract “City rates”, Jacques Hughes provided an answer so definitive that I must share this with all readers:

“The argument is just silly. PI and commercial work inhabit fundamentally different markets, and PI lawyers delude themselves if they think otherwise. Compare a topnotch PI practice like Irwin Mitchell to a real City firm and ask: does the PI firm have a 24 hr secretarial service? Does it have a 24/7/365 reprographics department capable of handling, say, 20 million pages a year? Do staff have to be paid to work all hours in order to liaise with NYC and Hong Kong? Does it have a library of 10,000 volumes plus, with subscriptions to all major Commonwealth and American law reports and journals? Does the PI firm have to run a recruitment drive targeted at the best candidates at Oxbridge and equivalents in the US & Australia, paying trainees 50K plus packages? Do middling assistants expect salaries in the 150K + bracket? Are international travel and worldwide offices a major PI overhead? The answer to all of these question is consistent, obvious, and negative. City rates for PI work is a nothing more than a mirthless joke.”

The disappearing middle

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A recent article in The Economist (see link) discussed the phenomenon that in rich countries since the 1990s employment in middle-income jobs has begun to decline as a share of the total whilst the share of both low and high-skilled jobs has risen.

The article speculates that the reason for this change is the development in information technology.

“Computers do not directly compete with the abstract, analytical tasks that many high-skilled workers do, but aid their productivity by speeding up the more routine bits of their jobs. But they do directly affect the need for people like assembly-line workers or those doing certain clerical tasks, whose jobs can be reduced to a set of instructions which a machine can easily follow (and which can consequently be mechanised). At the other end of the employment spectrum … low-skilled jobs may not require much education but they are very hard to mechanise.”

Secretaries, bank tellers and payroll clerk numbers decline as a result. Demand for the most highly educated has risen, as has (generally) the demand for low-skilled workers. The article does not explain the latter but this is presumably because a growing wealthy professional class will always require someone to make their caffe lattes and do the cleaning.

This ties in with news on Legal Futures (see link) that the number of solicitors on the roll has risen to 150,000. This represents nearly a 50% increase in the past decade.

Not long ago it was announced that the number of paralegals in England has increased from 24,509 in 2001 to 51,250 – a rise of 109% (see link).

What does the growth in computerisation mean for the legal profession? On the one hand it might suggest that there will be a relentless increase in the number of skilled lawyers as society continues to polarise between high skilled and low skilled jobs.

I suspect the truth will be something rather different.

Much legal work already consists of little more than “cut and paste” tasks. Many RTA firms are already sausage factories with large numbers of unqualified or semi-qualified staff working under the supervision of a handful of qualified solicitors. The new “portal” led RTA claims process already begins to suggest future developments. The Jackson Report (that we must all learn to live with) recommends the development of software that will calculate the value of personal injury claims.

Now we have the news that AA and Saga have entered into agreements with law firm Cogent Law and technology developers Epoq to provide a near-complete suite of consumer services (see link). “The agreements are also the first time a full range of legal services will be delivered directly by solicitors through the brand portal. Customers will be able to go to either of the organisations’ websites, select the service required, go through an online interview and answer a set of questions. The system will generate the relevant document which will be reviewed by the Cogent team”.

The Law Society Gazette’s Business Blog has also been exploring this issue (see link).

The legal profession may continue to expand but it is likely to do so with growing polarisation within it. There will always be the need for “City lawyers” with specialist skills and a small number of those supervising the others. At the other end there is likely to be an ever growing number of junior, poorly paid legal staff. The traditional “middle class” of the legal profession will largely disappear.

Costs Management in Civil Litigation Conference

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On 23rd November 2010 Thirty Nine Essex Street Chambers, Ellis Grant and Feesability are hosting a conference on Costs Management in Civil Litigation (see download). Speakers include Lord Justice Jackson.

Unlike some commentators, I’m not convinced that costs management is going to be the saviour of the legal costs profession. However, it is likely to be a nice little money earner for a handful of individuals (in the same way costs capping orders were for a brief period).

This also ties in with Professor Dominic Regan delivering his, sadly confidential, report on the Birmingham Costs Management pilot to Sir Rupert earlier this week.

The future is almost upon us.

Absent minded solicitors

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The US tax system gives various benefits to those with dependants. The more dependants, the lower the final tax bill will be.

Previously, tax payers had to do no more than give the names of their dependants in their tax return to benefit. In 1987 a change was made so that tax payers had to give the Social Security number of each dependent being declared. Overnight seven million children disappeared (see page 21 of Freakonomics).

Japan has long been hailed for the longevity of its citizens, with official figures showing 40,000 centenarians. Earlier this year officials went to congratulate Tokyo’s oldest man on his 111th birthday. They found his mummified body lying in his bed. He had been dead for 30 years. Subsequent enquiries revealed that Tokyo’s oldest women had been missing for decades (see link). It appears that relatives in Japan have been too busy continuing to collect pensions on behalf of their elderly relatives to remember to advise the authorities of their deaths.

These two examples reveal the propensity of humans to be less than honest when they think nobody is looking.

Now, claimant solicitors, being officers of the court, would never be deliberately dishonest. However, they do have a tendency to do the costs equivalent of inadvertently miscounting the number of children they have or forget that their grandmother is no longer alive and her mummified body is now lying in the spare bedroom.

I therefore have a modest proposal. There are currently a number of legal costs related pilots being conducted. Let’s introduce a further one in a handful of courts whereby whenever a bill of costs is served copies of all retainer documents and all timesheets are to be served with it. I wonder if this will produce a sudden miraculous drop in the amounts being claimed.

Legal costs seminar

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I see that Dr Mark Friston & Professor Dominic Regan are giving a seminar on the future of the legal marketplace and the impact of Gibbon on Part 36 settlements at the end of the month for those up North (see link).

MoJ Jackson consultation paper published

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The Ministry of Justice’s consultation paper on implementing Lord Justice Jackson’s proposals has now been published.

This contains some interesting suggestions for minor amendments to Jackson’s recommendations but the main thrust of the consultation is that recoverability of success fees and ATE premiums will end combined with the introduction of qualified one-way costs shifting and an increase in general damages.

Further information available on Legal Futures and the Law Society Gazette sites.

Of course, claimant lawyers might be able to persuade the government during the consultation process that the whole thing is a terrible idea.

Tweet tweet

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There has been a long-running debate on the Law Society’s LinkedIn Group on the question of “what do Solicitors Practices really have to tweet about”.

I have to admit that I have never really understood the whole Twitter concept, especially for a law firm (and this would include law costs draftsmen). There are a number of reasons for this.

Firstly, I share the traditional lawyer mindset and can’t see the point in saying something in 140 characters or less if you could say it equally well in 5,000 words. Those readers who’ve seen me in court will know my advocacy style is not dissimilar.

Secondly, the size of a tweet is so small that it barely allows for commentary or analysis on any given subject much beyond: “This me like”.

I also can’t begin to describe how banal most of things that are written on Twitter really are, including those by law firms and legal marketing consultants. Apologies if you tweet yourself and this is the kind of thing you write, but I just don’t get it:

  • “I’m just off to make a cup of coffee now”
  • “My train is pulling into Reading station”
  • “Great result for Arsenal at the weekend”

I don’t even really see the point in tweets that say things like:

  • “Great day in court today”
  • “We’ve just secured an important new client”

This might just be me. When I worked in an office I never understood it when people would come over to my desk first thing on a Monday morning and ask if I had had a good weekend. Why should they care about my weekend? I certainly didn’t care about theirs. If someone has done something genuinely interesting over the weekend then, by all means, share. But I never understood the desire for tedious small-talk. 99% of Twitter seems to fall into this category, only written by people you know on a personal level about as well as you know the photocopier repair man.  Famous twitterer (or should that be twit?) Stephen Fry apparently follows over 53,000 people.  I don’t expect to meet that many people in my lifetime.  Why would anyone want to know what 53,000 people have just had for breakfast?

However, I’m going to give Twitter a go for the following reason. I come across a large amount of legal costs related information in legal publications, on the internet, in other blogs, etc, much of it that I mean to comment on. Then, something else more pressing comes up and the moment passes. Surprising as it may seem, I have a busy costs practice and spend far too much of my spare time, as it is, writing the Legal Costs Blog.

I’m therefore going to use Twitter as a means to direct readers in the direction of further legal costs news and information. Some of this may be commented on in more detail on the Blog in due course, time allowing.

I realise that social media is also about interacting directly with readers, just not presenting information. I’m not convinced that I’ll be very good at that part of the process (in large part because I’m not sure I’m going to be able to manage the technology).

On the other hand, my new Twitter account is already starting to pay dividends. Within a few minutes of setting up my account, and before writing my first tweet, I managed to acquire my first follower. This was a young lady whose profile says she is “single and just looking for cool guys near me”. She had obviously read my profile and realised what a catch I would be. Oh yes. Being a legal costs consultant makes me quite the ladies’ man.

Sadly, just as quickly, she has stopped following me.  This just goes to show the fickleness of costs groupies.

This is very much an experiment as to whether Twitter “works” (or at least works in the way I intend to use it). Let’s see how it goes and apologies for the inevitable technical glitches.

So, here you are: @GWS_LAW

The next costs QC?

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Dominic Regan’s Blog tips Mark Friston as one of a handful of spectacular prospects at the junior bar who will soon become silks.

Dr Friston is also about to be elevated to Costs Lawyer status.  I wonder which prospect excites him most.

Major Oxford Study into Litigation Funding and Costs

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Dr Christopher Hodges and Professor Stefan Vogenauer of Oxford University have just published a major international study into litigation funding and costs.

The project has already proven influential in contributing to the Review of Civil Litigation Costs in England and Wales conducted by Lord Justice Jackson earlier this year. The authors go on to recommend that, “If governments wish to deliver wider access to justice in those cases where proportionate cost is particularly important, they should introduce tariffs for lawyers’ fees, introduce efficient case management techniques in the civil courts, and devise alternative pathways for dispute resolution that deliver cheaper or more efficient solutions.”

The full report is available here: Report.