This is a guest post by Noel Arnold in which he shares some of his recent experiences of using CCMS.
There is less than a month to go before use of the Legal Aid Agency’s electronic working platform, CCMS, becomes mandatory in all civil categories of certificated work on 1 April.
Some of my CCMS experiences have been perfectly fine and I have thought, on occasion, that it’s not so bad after all. I have also had some utterly infuriating experiences. I am however supportive of electronic working as a concept. Those who follow me on Twitter will have seen my rants under the hashtag (#CCMSfail) I created for all to share their CCMS woes. As doomsday looms, I want to share my relatively recent experience of trying to enter the outcome of a case and then submitting a bill of costs through CCMS. This was torturous. It didn’t work and I had to make several calls to people at the LAA who themselves didn’t know what to do, had to ask someone else and promised to call me back. They didn’t, so I had to chase. I had to go through the process I was trying to complete with someone at the LAA mirroring what I was doing while on the phone with that person. This all went on for some time.
If I was making interim applications like an amendment request or completing a means review etc then I would simply have charged all that ‘wasted time’ to the file and would have certainly expected the LAA to have paid for that time when the claim for costs was assessed. In this situation the legal aid certificate was discharged; I was submitting a final bill of costs. It was now too problematic to reverse this in order to add all my wasted time into the claim for costs.
So I set about making a complaint to email@example.com. Some of the points below I dealt with in my complaint to the LAA. Some others I have set out as matters I would address if I had to do this again (which I hope would not occur):
- Summary of all the trouble and difficulties;
- Why I believe that it was CCMS to blame rather than any other factors;
- That had things worked as they should have, I would have been spared wasting so much time;
- That the LAA should make right the situation which in my view means making an ex gratia payment for the wasted time;
- My private charge out rate is £XX, and were it not for the time I had to spend on CCMS I would have been doing fee earning work at that rate;
- The time I wasted, plus emails and phone calls, amounted to £YY at that rate. I enclosed a schedule of time spent, not including the time it would have taken me to submit the bill had the system worked properly.
There was a period of months before I got a final response, though I chased periodically. Eventually, and I should say, much to my surprise the LAA responded and said they would make the payment but not quite the total I asked for. So I considered their response. It didn’t make sense to me. I queried this. I kindly requested the whole amount. Then a cheque came in the post for the amount the LAA said it was willing to pay. More chasing from me and then again to my surprise the LAA said it would pay the full amount I had asked for. A little later another cheque arrived.
My view is that we should embrace CCMS in the hope that it continues to improve and will work for us, the key users. Where it doesn’t we should report issues to the LAA so they are aware. We should feed information to our representative groups such as the LAPG and Resolution (first for family law). Importantly, in my view, we should not lose fee-earning time. It should be charged in full to the file. Emails should be kept and any messages posted to the LAA via CCMS printed or documented on the file and time recorded. The same goes for phone calls and all attendances and other time spent doing something on CCMS. All this should be time-recorded with case file notes prepared justifying or explaining the time spent and why. We should expect all that time to be paid by the LAA.
The LAA’s aim to introduce electronic working is laudable. I for one support the aim but any defects or inefficiencies in the system should not cause prejudice to providers and should certainly not cause any financial loss.
Noel Arnold is Director of Legal Practice at Coram Children’s Legal Centre. He is the Vice-chair of the Association of Lawyers for Children and sits on the Law Society’s Children Law Sub-committee. In July 2015, Noel became the inaugural winner of the award for ‘Children’s rights’ at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards. The views expressed here are his own and not that of any other person or organisation. Follow Noel on Twitter @children_law