CHAMBERS are leaving themselves dangerously exposed because of their failure to keep accurate records of their commitment to conditional fee arrangements (CFAs).
With legal aid for personal injury cases now replaced by CFAs, barristers face bankruptcy if they cannot effectively manage the expected boom in such cases, as setting appropriate fee rates relies on being able to track what percentage of cases has been successf
In a survey carried out by The Lawyer, only one out of 30 leading chambers was able to say how many cases had been funded by CFA agreements over the past year.
Chambers place the blame on the two computer software providers to the bar, Applied Computer Expertise (ACE) and Meridian Law Ltd. They claim neither company has software that can handle CFAs.
This is despite the Bar Council asking both ACE and Meridian to modify the software two years ago.
There has been little impetus to speed the development of such tools, as the Bar Council has failed to make the ability to track CFAs a condition of its quality standard award, BarMark.
However, the one set that was able to provide The Lawyer with data, 7 Bedford Row, has proved that Meridian can be used to manage effective records. Senior clerk Christopher Owen says: “We were one of the first of four users of Meridian. We were able to use it for CFAs because of the way we set up the information system.”
The Lord Chancellor’s Department is also facing criticism because it failed to provide any statistics or analysis of past cases. Barrister Andrew Ritchie at 9 Gough Square says: “Until we have good figures in terms of a war chest to fight cases we lose, then we are operating in a difficult environment. The question is how does one set a success fee without a figure?”
Meridian managing director John Willis argues that the fault lies in how the chambers are using the software, and claims that his company provides the system to just over half of UK chambers.
However, a spokesman for the Bar Council retaliates: “Clearly the Bar Council has urged chambers to pay close attention to the level of risk exposure, so it’s important to develop systems to measure risk over time, and therefore we will be looking at ways to expedite more efficient systems for chambers.”
(See feature, p29.)