Q&A: J-codes in practice

In the first of two Q&A posts by Deborah Burke from Attain Legal Costs Management Ltd, Deborah deals with the new J-codes and provides guidance on how to use them. In her second post, Deborah will look at the new format for bills of costs.

A voluntary pilot for use of the new bill of costs began on 1 October 2015, and is governed by PD 51L. It is due to run until October 2016.

Q: This might sound like a silly question, but what exactly are the J-codes and why were they created?

A: The J-codes are a Uniform Task-Based Management System (UTBMS) code set which has been specially adapted for use by litigators in England and Wales. The J-codes allow fee earners to time record work contemporaneously, using codes which are compatible with the Precedent H phases.

The J-codes came into being as a precursor to the design of a new electronic format for bills of costs, both of which were recommendations of Lord Justice Jackson in his 2009 review of Civil Litigation Costs.

Q: Is everyone using J-codes already?

A: The short answer to this is “no”. My experience is that the majority of civil litigators are aware of the existence of the J-codes, but very few are already using them.

Q: Where do I find the J codes?

A: The J-codes are on the UTBMS website. They are set out in the guidelines at the bottom of that page.

The guidelines contain all of the phase/task and activity codes as well as the codes for disbursements and are well worth a read.

For getting an initial overview of the J-codes, I recommend starting with the “J-codes phase and task summary” on pages 11 to 12 of the guidelines.

It is also worth looking at page 9 of the guidelines, which contains a “Precedent H mapping table” (each of the phases of the current Precedent H maps to a specific J-code).

Q: I have heard that there are 1,500 permutations of the J-codes. Is this correct? How will I ever get used to them?

A: References to the theoretical number of permutations of the J-codes are not helpful.

Let’s take as an example the “Witness statements” phase. Here are the J-code phase and task codes:

JG00 Witness statements Work that relates to the identification of potential witnesses and preparing their evidence for trial (excludes witness evidence in relation to interim applications).
JG10 Taking, preparing and finalising witness statement(s) Work involved in identifying appropriate witnesses, tracing and communicating with same, taking instructions for, preparing and serving witness statements or affidavits, preparing and serving witness summaries, preparing and serving  any notices under Civil Evidence or similar  Acts, preparing and serving witness summonses, including reviewing other materials for these purposes and all dealings with client, witnesses, inquiry agents, counsel, Other Party(s) and others in relation to own side witness statements.
JG20 Reviewing Other Party(s)’ witness statement(s) Considering Other Party(s)’ witness statements, affidavits, witness summaries, Civil Evidence Act or similar notices, reviewing same in context of other evidence and material, considering strategy to deal with issues raised.

For this phase, there are only 2 possible tasks: you are either dealing with your own (JG10) or your opponent’s (JG20) witness statements. The four digit code deals with both the phase and the task.

Once you have decided whether it’s your own witness statements or your opponent’s (that shouldn’t take long!), the only thing left to do in terms of time recording is to allocate an activity to the task.

This process is better illustrated by reference to a J-codes crib sheet for the witness statements phase.

There are 15 main activity codes.

As you will see from the crib sheet, the activity codes divide into three main themes: “preparation” type activities, “communication” type activities and “the rest”.

Once you have decided on JG10 or JG20, the maximum number of permutations is 15, which is a lot more manageable than 1,500.

It will not take litigators long to get used to time recording in this way.

Q: What questions do I need to ask in order to find out if I can start using J-codes straight away?

A: There are three central questions to ask of your system:

  • Question 1: Can my system work with UTBMS code sets (which will include J-codes)? If the answer is yes, then it should be possible for the J-codes to be loaded onto your system. Do this and start using them as soon as possible.
  • Question 2: If the answer to question 1 is “no”, then ask whether your system can record time by phase/task and activity. If it can, then see whether your system can be adapted to utilise the J-code descriptions and start time recording by reference to those J-code descriptions as soon as possible.
  • Question 3: If the answer to question 2 is “no” (either because your system can’t record by phase/task and activity or because even though it can record by phase/task and activity, the system cannot be adapted to utilise the J-code descriptions), then at the very least you should time record going forwards by starting each time recording entry with the relevant J-code phase/task and activity codes.

In the longer term, it is to be expected that time recording and practice management systems will automatically support J-codes/J-code descriptions.

Q: How will using J-codes cut costs and increase profit?

A: It is often said that time recording using J-codes is slower. Actually, it’s often quicker.

At the moment, your time recording entry might be:

“Drafting work to expand client’s witness statement to deal with continuing losses because premises remain closed.”

This uses 112 keystrokes.

Time recording the same piece of work with J-code descriptions might look like this:

“JG10 A103 expanding C to deal with continuing losses because premises remain closed.”

Using J-codes, the entry only requires 83 keystrokes, which is 25% fewer. Reducing the time spent time recording increases efficiency and litigators will get even quicker with practice.

Secondly, when time has been recorded using J-codes, incurred work can be mapped instantly to Precedent H when a draft budget is needed.

After budget approval, it is easy and time efficient to monitor the actual costs against the approved budget while the case continues. Potential overspend issues can be instantly identifiable at both the phase and task levels, enabling swift corrective action to be taken.

Perhaps the biggest single cost driver in adopting J-codes is that time that has been recorded using J-codes can be “plopped” straight into the template for the new bill of costs in order to produce a first draft bill of costs for detailed assessment (more about that in my next blog post).

While it is acknowledged that producing budgets, monitoring budgets against actual time spent and preparing bills of costs for detailed assessment will always require some skilled intervention, it will be far less than at present. This will significantly reduce time and cost.

Q: What should I do about my current cases which have not been recorded using J-codes or J-code descriptions?

A: What action to take will depend on a number of factors, for example, has a budget been prepared? If so, is time now being recorded at least by Precedent H phase? Is the case likely to settle sooner rather than later? What is the value of the WIP?

Probably the most sensible first step is to discuss your options with your costs lawyer. Remember that not all costs lawyers have the necessary experience of budgeting, J-codes, the new bill format or, indeed, the ability to provide smart solutions for “tagging” historical time recording, so choose your costs expert wisely. Between you, it will be possible to agree a sensible and proportionate strategy.

Attain Legal Costs Management Ltd Deborah Burke

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