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has a point been spectacularly missed? (warning, contains some maths)

 

Or math, if you’re American, in which case “hello, and you really don’t need to read this”

 

The LSC have decided that from 1st October 2012, any application for Prior Authority on experts will be refused (unless it is a request which goes above the codified hourly rates).  They point out, unsurprisingly, that 70-90% of applications for psychologists are within the codified hourly rates and that it is a time-consuming and intensive process to deal with all of these requests.

 

So, we’re left with – if your expert is on or below the codified rate you are okay to instruct them, and can’t seek Prior Authority to make sure your costs will be paid. And if they’re above, well then you can ask if that’s okay (but they’re going to say no, so save your breath for blowing up balloons)

 

I know that even Stephen Hawkins was told before his book “The Brief History of Time” was completed, that every equation in it would cut sales figures in half, so he only included one, and that’s the one that everyone already knows, though they don’t understand it.  But we need a little bit of maths to show why this new procedure might be even worse than the last one.

 

Pre October example   – the parties want to instruct Dr Walter Bishop to undertake a psychological assessment. They get the quote, which is £150 an hour, for 40 hours.  There are four parties (which makes the maths easier, hooray!). The parties apply for prior authority, as each of them as liable for £1,500.  The LSC say “We agree the hourly rate, but want to halve the time, so you can all have £750″.   The parties then have to decide whether to (a) beat Dr Bishop down to 20 hours (b) get him to take less total money (c) pay the difference of £750 out of their own pockets (ha!) or (d) look for another expert.  All very time-consuming and far from child-centred, but what we avoid is Dr Bishop spending money that he won’t get paid for, or putting solicitors on the hook.

 

Post October example – the parties want to instruct Professor Farnsworth, and he says “good news everyone, I’m available.”  He gives a quote of £150 per hour for 40 hours. So each party is responsible for £1500.  But, the publicly funded parties can’t ask the LSC if they are happy with the 40 hours, and any application for prior authority will be refused (so the assessment couldn’t happen at all).  Now, somebody has to take a risk. If the expert produces a final bill of £6,000, the LA can stump up their share of £1,500, but who knows how much money the three publicly funded parties will get. If the LSC run true to form and arbitrarily slash the hours and here’s the nub – after those hours have been incurrred ,  there’s a risk that the expert will be £2,250 out of pocket, or three solicitors will be £750 out of pocket.

 

Without telling solicitors up front, how many hours are acceptable for an assessment  (even if it was  a generic figure for which exceptions could be sought),  there is now a risk that either the expert or the solicitors will be out of pocket.  The risk on the expert is obviously three-fold, since Professor Farnsworth stands to lose three times as much as any individual solicitor.

 

Professor Farnsworth’s horrified reaction to not getting his fee paid.

And there’s no way, any more of knowing up front, whether the LSC will pay for the hours the expert has spent on the case, because you can’t ask for Prior Authority.

A lovely little incidental from this is that for ISWs, who have been badly hosed by the whole codified rate thing, there is now far less risk for the solicitors  (because the hourly rate is so much less, the risk per hour spent that the LSC cut costs less) and instructing a psychologist with the hourly rate around the £150 plus mark becomes terribly risky.  [using the hours above, the ISW would be £30 x 40 hours -£300 each, and if the hours got cut in half, each solicitor would be short of £150, rather than £750]
But if I were an expert wanting to do public law family work, I’d want to know up front, if the LSC aren’t guaranteeing to pay my hours, who bears the risk in the event of shortfall? Because if you think it is me, I’m not going to do work for you, certainly not more than once.  And the solicitors can’t take a £750 hit on profit costs on fixed fee work, because it makes taking the case worse than not having been involved at all.

 

Easy fix, and maybe they intend to do this, or have done so, but tucked it away somewhere and not told us.   (See the Beware of the Leopard post about how public bodies tend to hide the important stuff away)

 

Type of assessment   – hours allowed     – additional hours allowed for each party being assessed

 

Or, but they’ll never do this – the LSC declare that they will honour all expert fees where the Court has approved the hours in the estimate  (the Court obviously being seized of the case and having a proper understanding of the issues, the papers, the complexity and how long it takes to do a proper assessment)

 

Fix please, because otherwise, your solution to the Prior Authority problem has unintentionally paralysed experts and solicitors by fear of capricious hour-slashing and the financial risk of who loses out.

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About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

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