Cracking the code
.
.
.
Marc Bloomfield
Description: Practice management
Demystifying the Legal Aid Agency’s reporting systems for controlled work and crime lower.
Firms and not-for-profit (NfP) practices are doing less legal aid work. Often only a few people have knowledge and experience of the Legal Aid Agency’s (LAA’s) contracted work and administration (CWA) billing system and they may be very busy fee-earners with little time to spare to support or train their colleagues. Controlled work and crime lower are the claims on which contract managers concentrate at their annual reviews and perhaps that’s the reason I have been asked to do more remote support sessions for admin/finance people recently. This article shares some tips.
Where to find the LAA’s guidance
There are guides to using the CWA system itself. The civil fees are to be found in the Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013 SI No 422 Sch 1. The crime fees are to be found in the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013 SI No 435 Sch 4.
The current LAA guidance for civil and family controlled work and crime lower is on the CWA codes guidance page of the GOV.UK website. The main reference document for reporting crime lower is the Guidance for reporting crime lower work (version 10, last reviewed October 2020) and is the first document on the page. The corresponding document for civil and family is the Guidance for reporting controlled work & controlled work matters (version 26, last reviewed 27 October 2020) and is the third document. Changes to the guidance are listed by category of law fee scheme on a separate web page as they are issued.
Some crime practices find it easier to refer to the Guide to the changes in reporting crime lower work document than the regulations when looking up the applicable fees. It appears to be dated 2016, but there is a note at the start that it was updated in October 2020 to include the new ‘sending’ fee.
Tricky issues
The main areas of difficulty arise when the person asked to make the submission is not provided with sufficient information.
In the most successful legal aid practices I know, the fee-earner is asked to select the billing codes before the case is passed to the billing team. This makes the most sense as it is their case and they will know what to select in a couple of minutes, compared with non-lawyers who may have to read a whole file and then spend quite a while working out how to, for example, classify an offence for a crime claim or decide whether negotiations have been ‘substantive’ in a family claim and what the correct outcome and stage reached should be.
By contrast, the firms and NfPs that leave it to the billing team to select the codes struggle with this and are more likely to make mistakes, for the simple reason that finance people are not lawyers and it wasn’t their case.
As the fee-earners are really busy, the organisation needs to make it as easy as possible for them. Fee-earners need to be trained so that they understand what they have to do and given ready access to the appropriate codes for their category of law. If still using paper files, you could create a section of the file closing form for the fee-earner to fill in. If using a case management system, you could create some mandatory fields:
Civil
Matter type 1
Matter type 2
Stage reached
Outcome code
Crime
Matter type
Stage reached/claim code
Outcome code
Lower and higher standard crime fees
If a case is on the border of a higher standard fee or looks like it could get there, it is crucial to make sure that every email/phone call is recorded.
Civil escape fees
You claim the standard fee through CWA, then you need to submit the file and the LAA will pay you the balance on assessment (Escape case electronic handbook, LAA, 18 December 2020). You can appeal if assessed down. The LAA is currently assessing these files electronically until June 2021 (subject to COVID-19 rules at the time). From then onwards, there will be an option to submit paper files if preferred.

About the author(s)

Description: Vicky Ling - author
Vicky Ling is a consultant specialising in legal aid practice and a founder member of the Law Consultancy Network.