Digital, Legal, Aid, CCMS,Software, Vendors, Tale

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12 June2015

Digital Legal Aid Ė A Software Vendorís Tale

Helen Ford

Despite many complaints of its lack of fitness for purpose from professional groups, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has declared 1 October 2015 as the mandatory date for receipt of claims via their Client and Cost Management System (CCMS), after which paper claims for FAS, FGF and Civil POA cases will no longer be processed.

Update: 15/06/2015
CCMS will not be mandatory until 1 February 2016 - Click here for further information

Whilst claims can be entered manually into CCMS using the online PUI (Provider User Interface), it was immediately apparent to software vendors, of which we are one, that entering claims into CCMS, as well as creating them in chambers management systems, was not a viable option.

The PUI itself has been heavily criticised by Legal Aid Providers who have used it so far for being much too slow and cumbersome to use. Manually entering even a simple claim can take over an hour, which is not acceptable by todayís standards. For chambers who are already suffering constant cuts in Legal Aid fees, increasing the administrative burden to such a degree was unthinkable and a solution had to be brokered.

The software vendors discussed these issues with the Software Vendor Support Team at the LAA. The process of discussion and development has been frustrating and costly (the project is currently over two and a half years old) but eventually a solution was offered by the LAA and we could begin coding the necessary changes into our software.

Our preferred method for claims to be sent from LEX to CCMS would have been an API (Application Programming Interface), which is a direct connection from one system to the other, meaning claims could be uploaded automatically without user interaction. Unfortunately, due to security restrictions placed upon CCMS by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), a direct connection into CCMS from case management systems was not possible, meaning that there is still some manual user interaction required in order to upload claims to CCMS. However, this should be seen as a minor irritation compared to the unworkable option of entering claims twice.

Finally, after much user testing we have released a Bulk Upload facility that transfers the content of claims created in LEX to CCMS without re-keying information.

The bulk upload facility for LEX allows the creation of XML files, which are electronic files in a specified format that contain the data required to process one or more claims. Clerks can choose when to bulk upload claims, and the XML file produced will simply batch up any claims which are ready to upload. Once generated, the XML file is submitted to the LAA by logging on to CCMS and uploading the file.

Uploaded XML files are then validated by CCMS (a process that can unfortunately take over 2 hours) and once complete, a notification will be sent to CCMS. Clicking into the notification in the CCMS PUI allows the downloading of a Claim Upload Execution Report that is then uploaded to LEX. The Claim Upload Report will give information as to whether a claim has been Accepted or Rejected and claims statutes in LEX are changed depending on the result.

It remains to be seen whether or not CCMS is fit for purpose but the software vendors have done everything they can to minimise the impact on chambers.

Wish us all luck as we have recently embarked on a project to integrate with the new Crime Billing Online system that the LAA has commissioned; so itís wipe the slate clean and start again.

Letís all hope that Crime Billing Online is less controversial than its predecessor.

Helen Ford is Managing Director of Bar Squared Limited the authors of LEX Chambers Management.

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Digital, Legal, Aid, CCMS,Software, Vendors, Tale