Biting the CCMS bullet
Don’t let the name fool you. The Legal Aid Agency’s much-criticised ‘cost and case management system’ can’t actually be used to manage cases. Nevertheless, all firms will have to start using it later this year. Vicky Ling advises on how to learn from the bitter experience of those who’ve already been wrestling with it.
The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) began to pilot its electronic client and cost management system (CCMS) for civil/family certificate applications and bills in November 2012. It had a rocky start and, despite a number of modifications, it is still designed with the LAA’s needs in mind rather than those of practitioners. Thanks to the doggedness of practitioners in the pilot, and Resolution members in particular, in working with the LAA to overcome the difficulties, the system is now better than it was – although whether it is good enough to become compulsory is still open to question.
The LAA has served formal notice on all its civil contract holders that the system will be mandatory from 1 October 2015. So, if you have been putting off the evil day, now is the time to put your toe in the water. Family practitioners suggest starting with non-means, non-merits tested cases, as these are the most straightforward. Other useful tips include:
Treat this as a major IT project
CCMS will have a major impact on the way you work and you will need to change your systems, whether electronic or paper.
Implementing CCMS may make people less productive, especially at first. The system may not always run as quickly as you would like, and, as with all new IT programs, there are likely to be unexpected problems when you cannot access the system. You may have to cope with ‘outages’, where the system goes down unexpectedly, or is not available. These may impact on productivity, and have an impact on cash-flow further down the line.
Appoint a co-ordinator
It is advisable to appoint a CCMS project co-ordinator, to do the training first and consider the impact on your existing systems. The coordinator should also receive and log feedback from everyone else using the system so that any issues can be acted upon and fed back to the LAA at a practice-wide level where appropriate.
•A screenshot of the problem;
•Context in relation to what has happened: what stage of the application you were at, or what was clicked on;
•Where necessary, the impact of the potential problem so that it can be triaged and prioritised efficiently by the LAA.
Although solicitors and caseworkers are most affected, secretaries and support staff, including billing staff, also need to be trained. Even people who do not do legal aid will need to understand that there is a major IT project being implemented which is affecting their colleagues. The LAA has made online training modules available.
Allocate CCMS roles
The key roles day to day are ‘case management’ and ‘case management supervisor’. Case management allows for cases to be viewed and amendments and applications to be prepared. Only case management supervisors, who must be ‘authorised litigators’, can submit applications, amendments and outcome codes.
It is essential that staff are allocated the correct role and not given privileges which they should not have. The roles create an element of rigidity in the way cases are handled. As there is no direct way to pass on an action in the system, good communication is essential.
There are also two billing roles; ‘bill preparation’ and ‘bill supervisor’. External costs draftsmen can be authorised to work on your bills. ‘Preparation’ allows bills to be drafted but not submitted. A bill supervisor must be sufficiently qualified to sign bills.
CCMS has a significant impact on supervision. All communication on a case is done through secure online message boards (see ‘check notifications’ below). This means that supervisors will no longer be able to monitor the way cases are developing through post-room monitoring procedures, and quickly checking incoming post received for a number of cases and caseworkers at the same time.
Using CCMS, an unqualified or junior fee-earner can no longer go to a supervisor with a set (or pile) of drafted documents to be checked and signed there and then. A printed summary of the application can be given to the authorised litigator, but they must then log in and navigate to the correct case before they can submit it.
Supervisors do not automatically receive details of the notifications and actions sent to the people they supervise. They can check them but they have to navigate to them via the system.
Keep a declaration on file
You normally need a declaration which is signed by the client that the completed draft application has been agreed by them. If this is not possible, say, because it has been completed somewhere with no internet access or printer, a promissory declaration can be used instead. Declarations are not submitted to the LAA, but without one, the file is not valid for payment.
Keep a schedule of actions
Despite its name, CCMS is not a case management system from the practitioner’s perspective and, unlike the Bravo portal for tenders, most information submitted on CCMS is then not accessible in the same form again. You cannot just log back in and see what you sent.
So, to ensure that it is clear when work was done, it is essential that contemporaneous records are kept on the file (electronic or paper). Sometimes the easiest way to do this is to take a screenshot. Some practitioners prefer a paper schedule of activities which is kept on the file.
CCMS sends one email each day informing you that you have a notification; otherwise all communication to users in practices is through notifications which are accessed through the CCMS portal itself. Therefore, it is vital that solicitors and caseworkers check, open and deal with their notifications promptly.