Many firms will at some stage have used or considered using the services of an external cost drafting company to assist them in the recovery of their costs: Traditionally the file of papers would have been dispatched to their preferred suppliers who would undertake the costing process on behalf of their principal, the bill would be approved and then served formally. Costs would either be agreed by way of a negotiated amicable settlement or determined at a formal assessment of costs by the Court. In essence the only cost of instructing the draftsman would be the fees you agreed for their service and nominal postage charges.
As technology advances and with the advent of ‘the paperless office’, processes on the whole are streamlined and costs savings are made. However, it is often an unintended consequence of such streamlining of one part of a process that inefficiencies are created elsewhere. It is true that fax, email and text messages have made contact with clients and service providers more efficient and exchange of information is quicker than ever. Case management systems enable accurate time recording, document production and storage meaning much of the paper that was once associated with the work of solicitors is digitised, saving the cost of print production and streamlining transfer of large pieces of work quickly and accurately. Nevertheless, it is at the point of outsourcing these cases to a cost draftsman that the unintended consequence of all this paperless activity becomes apparent.
It may well be the case that fee earners themselves have been spared this inconvenience and that the true cost of this activity is hidden within an administration department’s overall efficiencies. However, consider the fact that previously it was as simple as packaging up your complete file of papers and sending it to your costs draftsman of choice. What was once a simple task has unexpectedly been turned into a substantial administrative over-head because in order to instruct external costs draftsmen, a solicitors’ firm now faces the prospect of printing their entire file from their case management system to include disbursements, medical reports, accountant’s reports etc. In addition to rendering the entire paperless office exercise pointless and the direct costs of paper, printing and administrative time, there is always the potential that documents deemed unnecessary by a member of administrative staff may actually help paint the full picture of the time spent on a file for a draftsman and potential costs losses could be made even before a file has left the instructing solicitors’ office. Add to this the additional time chasing missing or incomplete items and you can see the cost of instructing a costs expert can significantly erode the advantages they are able to provide in terms of pound for pound cost recovery.
Admittedly some case management software allows for external login by approved suppliers but in our experience these web front ends can be poorly designed at best and virtually unworkable at worst giving low level access to some information which is not conducive to maximising costs recording let alone recovery. Similarly, solicitors may choose to instruct a costs draftsman who uses the same case management software in order to achieve some level of synchronicity and to avoid some of the inefficiencies mentioned above but it would be something of a dubious selection criterion to determine a choice of supplier based on the use of a particular case management system and one that would severely restrict choice in such a competitive market.
Leading cost draftsmen are responding to the requirements of paperless clients by developing export solutions as simple as the click of a button on your existing case management system. Upon export an email notification is sent to your cost draftsman of choice to inform them of the new instruction. Simultaneously all documents created in house and incoming correspondence that has been scanned to your system is copied to a location on your server and made available for download by your supplier, in addition is a small reference XML file is usually exported detailing diary and history entries together with reference positions for all other associated documents that enables a draftsman with the correct in-house software to download and convert your file from whatever case management system you use into a human readable format from which to draft your bill.
Draftsmen who have the technological wherewithal in-house can usually set up other value added benefits between their case management system and your own to enable two way messaging for the transfer and approval of completed bills, interim payments, settlement letters, invoices and the like which will synchronise with your own workflow management and are able to provide notifications to users and trigger task lists on your own case management system to avoid delays in the settlement process. Indeed, some providers are even able to link their systems and your own with external fee funding partners who are able to release up to 80% of your expected cash recovery once the formal bill has been approved and served meaning that you could receive the majority of your costs within a week of export.
Other advantages of a progressive IT minded supplier include detailed MI reporting capabilities, two way data transfer and online case monitoring portals that can give up to the minute data on how negotiations are progressing, what disbursements are agreed for funding purposes and a live dashboard to enable clients to see how much of their WIP is in formal negotiation with projections of likely recovery, estimated time to agreement and more importantly payment.
So from a negative to a positive, if you choose the correct supplier you can be safe in the knowledge that while your competitors are still copying their file of papers you could have already received the vast majority of your hard earned fees simply by the click of a button on your existing case management software.
Paul Mullin is a Director at Alternative Costs and C-TEK IT Systems. If you would like to get in touch to discuss how Alternative Costs can help your firm ask to speak to a member of the team on – 0844 822 0909 or visit the website – alternativecosts.com – for more details.