Getting your e-bundle right is key to a successful remote detailed assessment, a barrister and Costs Lawyer has said following a two-day hearing he conducted.
Paul Hughes, who practises from Kings Chambers, said it was “difficult to emphasise… enough” how key the e-bundle was to the successful conclusion of the hearing before District Judge Searl, conducted via BTMeetMe. Instructed by Irwin Mitchell to represent the receiving party, he said they used IM Share, the firm’s online data room, which was very similar to Citrix Sharefile.
Writing on the chambers’ Covid-19 blog, he explained: “The e-bundle was divided into folders containing the documents of substance (pleadings, witness statements, experts reports, instructions to counsel etc) and one with subfolders appertaining to each point of dispute. Within each of those sub-folders were further sub-folders with timed attendance notes, routine letters and telephone calls.
“Absent screen share, all that was required was a little step-by-step guidance to the relevant folder and a decision could be made after short argument. The process sped up as all parties became used to process (the defendant had access to non-privileged documents only, of course) and could locate the relevant item as quickly as if the bundle was in paper form.”
Mr Hughes said he annotated his copy of the bill on PDF Expert and sent it to his solicitor at various points during the hearing, so that she could recast the bill with the software used to draft it and save time at the end. “If I were for a paying party, I might have prepared a spreadsheet of the bill to enable the same process to be undertaken by me as the hearing proceeded.”
He said the hearing concluded after a further short adjournment to recalculate and an argument on costs. “It was completed well within the time allocated (initially for an attended hearing, of course). It is not a panacea – it is not meant to be, but with the help of a well-prepared e-bundle (my thanks in this instance to IM), a willing judiciary (our thanks to DJ Searl) and a polite and professional opponent (my thanks to James Miller), the bottleneck on solicitors’ cash flow can, one case at a time, be released if it is adopted more widely.”
His colleague at Kings, Andrew McGee, wrote about his experience of a one-day telephone DA. Here the bundle was not prepared with a remote hearing in mind – there had been two previous adjournments, for reasons unrelated to the virus – “and the judge was left to rummage through the file (11 lever-arch files) at times, which was not ideal, but both advocates kept their submissions short and well-directed, and the judge took a broad-brush approach where appropriate – perhaps the pressures of conducting the hearing by telephone added to that”.
Mr McGee added: “The usual task of doing the arithmetic at the end was greatly shortened because I had a spreadsheet of the bill, which I adjusted as the assessment proceeded. At the end, I emailed it to my opponent and judge, and we were rapidly able to confirm the total costs allowed.
“From my point of view, this was all pretty successful. Perhaps not quite as efficient as an attended hearing, but I would have no qualms about conducting a detailed assessment remotely while the current restrictions on attended hearings prevail.”
Last month, a group of costs professionals, with the support of the regional costs bench, produced the guidance on the conduct of remote detailed assessments, which was published by the ACL. It has been formally adopted by the judiciary, as it now appears on the Judiciary website’s Covid-19 guidance page.
Meanwhile, the costs team at Kings Chambers has also recorded a series of short video guides to assist in preparing for remote costs hearings.