10 May, 2011
At this year’s Association of Costs Lawyers’ National Conference, one of the guest speakers, a regional costs judge, observed that the introduction of fixed fees for fast-track personal injury matters was not something that those present needed to be concerned about as most fast-track matters were currently dealt with by way of summary assessment.
The logic was presumably that costs lawyers did not currently see much fast-track costs work as this was dealt with by way of summary assessment at the conclusion of a trial and the introduction of fixed fees would therefore make no real difference to costs lawyers’ workloads.
It is noteworthy that even a judge with a genuine interest in legal costs related matters should have reached this conclusion. This is much the same mistake that Lord Woolf made with his civil justice reforms. He assumed that the costs of preparing for trial would have to be incurred at some stage in any event and it therefore made sense for such costs to be incurred at an early stage in the hope that this would increase the likelihood and speed of settlement. What he overlooked was the fact that the vast majority of cases settled pre-trial and often with limited disclosure. His front-loading of case preparation meant that a large amount of expensive work is now unnecessarily incurred.
Members of the judiciary, inevitably, only see the cases that are litigated and assume that these are typical with a large number of these making it all the way to trial. In reality, of course, the vast majority of cases settle pre-proceedings. For litigated matters, most settle well before trial. Even for those cases that do run close to trial, a high proportion still settle before they actually reach the door of the court. None of these cases are dealt with by way of summary assessment. For all these fast-track claims it is necessary for someone at the receiving party’s end to quantify the costs that have been incurred and then for someone at the paying party’s end to scrutinise the costs claimed. Some of those cases will make it all the way to detailed assessment.
For most law costs draftsmen working in the personal injury field, fixed costs for the fast-track is indeed something to worry about.