Costs News

10 September 2014
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Oversight body approves J-Codes

The prospect of a new-style bill of costs has taken a step closer to reality, after a crucial phase in the development process received top-level sign off.

Earlier this week, the Legal Electronic Data Exchange Standard (LEDES) Oversight Committee ratified what have become known as J-Codes – the standardised codes that will ultimately categorise every activity within the civil litigation process for costs assessment purposes.

LEDES’ approval of the proposed J-Codes is crucial in ensuring that Jackson LJ’s plans for all claims for costs to be presented to the court by reference to ‘phases, tasks and activities’ can be delivered. LEDES’ membership largely comprises legal software vendors and large law firms – essentially, the key parties that will either develop or use the software on which the J-Codes are based.

Within the unified coding scheme set out in the recently approved J-Codes, specific top-level ‘phase codes’ will categorise all civil litigation work performed by its overall theme, such as disclosure or work related to the production of witness statements. More granular ‘task codes’ will then classify work by what is being done – such as reviewing the other party’s statement of case. Finally, ‘activity codes’ will set out how the work is being undertaken – such as researching a matter or drafting a document. ‘Expense codes’ will categorise disbursements, while ‘timekeeper/lawyer grade codes’ will categorise practitioners by reference to their seniority.

Ultimately, it is planned that the J-Codes will be adopted by the legal profession on an industry-wide basis, and at every stage of the civil litigation process. The intention is that task codes initially recorded by fee earners will be fed directly into the bills that will be presented to the court for assessment. The same task codes will also help generate phase codes, which largely replicate the existing components of Precedent H. However, in reality, the full scope of these changes is likely to take several years to implement. In addition, the report that accompanies the new J-Codes suggests they should initially only be used in cases in which Precedent H has already been adopted. Only after piloting would the use of J-Codes be extended to other areas of civil ligation, such as family cases.

Although the costs profession is likely to be significantly affected by the approval of the J-Codes and the resulting new format bill of costs, costs lawyers from across the country have played a significant role in the preparatory work that has led up to the codes’ adoption. Much of the initial groundwork for the new J-Codes was carried out by the ACL Jackson Working Group Committee, and, since the ACL produced its 2011 report on the subject, Modernising Bills of Costs, the role of costs lawyers in assisting with the development of the J-Codes has continued. Several costs lawyers have participated in, or advised, the Jackson Review EU-UTMBS Development Steering Committee – the body that ultimately devised the J-Codes that LEDES has now approved.

A copy of the approved J-Codes, and the report that accompanies it, is now available from the Uniform Task Based Management System website.

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