The New Format Bill: Are You Ready To Be An Excel Warrior?

Implementation of the new format electronic bill of costs quickly approaches. Narrowly avoiding public ridicule for what might have been a misguided, ill-informed and potentially defamatory article, Dominic Woodhouse has a closer look.

This was nearly a very embarrassing article.

With the continually deferred date for full implementation of the new format electronic bill of costs, I’ve repeatedly found reasons to put off properly engaging with it beyond a bare ‘root-around’ to vaguely familiarise myself. However, as the current expected implementation date of April 2018 quickly approaches, I decided that I couldn’t put it off any longer.

I’m a late ‘convert’ to Excel (other spreadsheet programs are available). I have a reasonable grasp of functions, basic formula construction and a smattering of visual basic. I can do some things with a spreadsheet which seem impressive to me and recently ordered my children to henceforth refer to me (completely unjustifiably) as ‘Excel demi-god’, but my creations would be laughed at as the work of a novice by actual aficionados of the great wonder that is Excel (again, other spreadsheet programs are available). Its magic beguiles me. My knowledge of the use of pivot tables, however, is close to nil. It’s from this starting point that I set out to engage with the new format electronic bill, and from which sprang the potential for gargantuan embarrassment.

I’m looking at a screen with streams of numbers and words (the ‘Bill Detail’ page in the electronic bill) that my brain struggles to comprehend en-masse and in scrolling down for what seems like eternity, I feel like Neo in The Matrix. Interestingly, and stretching the analogy, this appears to be where I ‘control’ everything. The problem though, is that I’m not ‘controlling everything’, I’m just controlling this piece, not the ‘appearance’ evident on other (summary) pages. I’ve changed the hourly rates on the ‘Legal Team – Rates’ page, and the profit costs on this page accordingly change. Nothing however, has happened on the various bill summary pages. I check them all, one by one, and the idea for what was going to be this article occurs to me; a hopefully uncharacteristic belligerent moan about the competence of those responsible for designing it (I apologise for the very thought), with a page by page breakdown of its uselessness. I’m fortunately saved from myself by my almost uncontrollable tendency to tinker.

I try to manually alter one of the summary pages; ‘no go’ says Excel, as a box helpfully pops up to tell me ‘[w]e can’t change this part of the pivot table’. I hadn’t realised it was a pivot table; it doesn’t look like one of the few pivot tables I’ve previously hacked together with only an uncertain idea of what it was that I was doing at the time, and the pivot table ribbon is nowhere in sight. Now knowing that it’s a pivot table, I manually refresh the page and the magical wonder of Excel hushes my grumbles into silence as the page instantly updates to reflect the changes I’ve made elsewhere while I was flailing around looking to prove my previous point. And so it is that I save myself from the shame and embarrassment of falsely impugning the abilities of some notable luminaries of the legal world (I really should know better).

It was as simple as that, just clicking ‘refresh’ (once you’ve found it in the current version of Excel), the same as you would waiting online for Belinda Carlisle tickets to go on sale (I mean, er, [insert appropriate modern musical icon]).

Nowadays I find myself with ever increasing frequency resorting to the invocation of religious concepts such as ‘hope’ and ‘faith’, and am reminded of the dictionary definition of the latter that I had to look up as part of a religious education lesson twenty (and some) years ago: ‘a belief in something not yet seen’. It may not have been evident on the face of the bill, but there were mysterious forces at work behind the scenes, and I really ought to have had a little faith. After all, how far would Neo have got without a belief in things not yet seen?

I also ought to have faith in the success of the electronic bill rollout once it comes, that the necessary facilities, tools and training will be in place for the judiciary and the legal profession, and that through the power of Excel (or similar), assessment of the new format electronic bill will be less daunting than first appears when staring at the ‘Bill Detail’ page. After all, the pessimistic sceptic in me that anticipates very quick, ‘rough justice’, assessments based only on the summary pages to avoid a potentially soul-destroying examination of the minutiae can’t possibly be correct.493436_c390_4-1

Just in case though, where the victor in costs assessments may prove to be the one with the greatest command of pivot tables, I’ll devote some time to this hitherto neglected area in order to become an ‘Excel warrior’.


dominicDominic Woodhouse is a Senior Advocate at Victoria Square Chambers. 

To contact him about any of the matters raised in this article, please click here.

Victoria Square Chambers is a specialist national costs practice. It’s our mission to add value and opportunity to your business through Costs Advocacy, Costs Advice and Costs Mediation through our leading experts and advisers. To contact our knowledgeable team, please click here.

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