Lawyers are struggling daily with Legal Aid Agency’s Client and Costs Management System (CCMS), a new survey has shown, which is hampering their ability to help their clients and in some cases even putting their businesses at risk.
The survey of 418 users – including 38 costs professionals – conducted by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group was itself so long and complex that, the group said, it showed both how “horribly complex” the civil legal aid system is, and that the LAA “missed a trick” by replicating rather than simplifying the old system.
Writing for Legal Voice, Chris Minnoch, the group’s operations director, said: “This is probably one of the main threads running through all of the feedback we received – when systems move into the digital age, users quite rightly expect any online application to be faster, more intuitive, more user-friendly and simpler than the manual system it has replaced. The survey responses tend to suggest that this just is not the case with CCMS.”
While in relation to substantive matters, most respondents felt that CCMS decision-making was slower than the old system, 48% who used the billing/payment on account functions thought it quicker, with 32% saying it was slower.
Among the features that were said to be working well were claims for payments on account, submitting bills (although many respondents raised issues when needing to amend a bill), allocating costs to counsel, and billing fixed-fee cases.
However, the survey highlighted the “sheer frequency of stability/functional issues”, such as difficulties with logging on, speed and reliability (such as freezing, getting kicked out, losing data or no record of documents that have been uploaded).
There were also other design issues – for example, drop-down menus not containing all the necessary options – as well as poor support and processing times.
Mr Minnoch said: “We have provided the LAA with anonymised data and are currently awaiting a reply to our meeting request to discuss headline issues. We also plan to raise CCMS as a live issue for the [Ministry of Justice’s] LASPO review. Ultimately, the point of the survey was to gather the data we needed to push for improvements in the system. Most of our members tell us they do not want to go back to a paper system. They want an IT system that works well and minimises the amount of admin that takes them away from their legal work.”