SRA Survey Shows Positive Signs for Personal Injury Sector

A survey by the Solicitors Regulation Authority has revealed that the UK’s personal injury sector is doing well despite the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO). The survey gathered information and opinions from a wide range of relevant sources, including over 250 legal firms operating in the sector, and identified a number of positives.

As well as hundreds of legal firms, the survey questioned the judiciary, regulators, representative bodies, insurance companies, and trade associations. The findings of this survey were recently published, and while there were some areas of potential improvement identified the SRA’s research has suggested that, on the whole, the industry is doing well.

The personal injury sector is in many ways a broad sector. One of the most prevalent examples is claiming compensation for accidents at work, or indeed any injury or illness, that was the result of an employer taking insufficient measures to provide a safe working environment. However, it also includes just about any case where one person has been physically injured and it was the fault of a third party, such as accidents caused by careless driving, or cases where a business has not maintained a safe environment for customers.

In such cases, the injured party is entitled to a financial settlement from the negligent party, both to reimburse any financial costs associated with the injury and to act as compensation. A large part of the personal injury sector is made up of firms that specialise in these claims, or even specific kinds of injury claim such as workplace accidents or traffic accidents.

It was expected to be one of the sectors that was particularly likely to be hit by the 2012 act, specifically by the removal of certain kinds of fees, but the survey suggests that personal injury firms have adapted well to the changing landscape. Overall, the SRA concluded from its research that the sector is “generally working well” in a post-LASPO legal landscape.

The report also suggested that the number of frivolous and outright fraudulent claims is decreasing, though this still remains a concern. This decrease is welcome news for firms operating in the sector as, unlike most other areas of legal practice, fees are often only charged on the success of a claim and as a percentage of the settlement awarded.

The report also suggested that the relationship between legal firms and other relevant companies such as insurers is growing more positive. Among the concerns raised was the possibility that some firms may be diversifying into new areas of personal injury practice without the desirable amount of expertise.

Clients Satisfied but not Trusting of Lawyers

Lack of Trust

Lack of TrustAccording to a recent report from legal watchdog the Legal Services Consumer Panel, the UK’s legal client satisfaction rates are currently high. In spite of this, however, the level of trust that the public places in lawyers is falling.

The watchdog’s tracker survey was carried out between February and March this year in association with prominent survey specialists YouGov. Questions were asked of 1,864 people, of which the majority – 1,523 – had made use of legal services in the past two years.

The survey revealed that 85% of those who had made use of professional legal services reported that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the service they had received from their lawyers, backing up strong satisfaction figures from other recent surveys.  61% said that the service from their chosen provider represented good value for money, with only 10% saying that they received poor value for the price they paid.

On the other hand, and despite the majority of people being happy with the service they received from their lawyers, the level of trust that people place in legal professionals is low and falling. Only 42% of those who responded to the survey said that they trusted lawyers to be truthful. Last year, this figure was 47%. Over a fifth of people, 22% said that they actively did not trust lawyers to be truthful.

This does not compare favourably with the trust figures for other professions. It places lawyers on a par with accountants, but in a less positive position compared to teachers, who were trusted to tell the truth by 69% of the general public, and doctors, who have the trust of 80%. Women were more likely than men to trust lawyers, the survey showed, and white people were more trusting of lawyers than people from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds.

The survey also examined the factors that typically go into a person’s choice of legal provider. While the majority of respondents stated that legal services had provided them with good value for money, this was not the most important deciding factor. That title goes to the reputation of the provider in question, which more than three quarter (77%) stated was the biggest consideration.

Price was nonetheless important, with 69% of the survey’s respondents stating that this was an important factor. Almost as highly-valued was the location of the provider, with 68% of people saying that a convenient location was important to them when choosing which firm they would go to.

Legal Services Board Voices Concerns About Price Publishing

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has expressed reservations that legal firms should publish their “average prices.” The LSB is concerned that rather than helping consumers, which is the intention of the recommendations, the data could instead prove misleading and confusing.

The recommendations in question were made by the Legal Services Consumer Panel, which was looking into methods of “opening data” from the legal industry. The panel suggested that it should be made a requirement by approved regulatory bodies that firms and individual practitioners within the legal industry should make information on their prices accessible. Specifically, it was recommended that they publish the average cost of the services they provide, including disbursements, on their website, and also be bound to produce this information if it is requested.

The LSB, in response to these recommendations, accepted that there is evidence to suggest “weak price transparency” in the legal industry. However, the board recommended that “careful” appraisal of the benefits and costs should be carried out before regulators consider making the publication of average prices a requirement.

“It is not clear at this stage,” the LSB said in a letter to the panel in response to these recommendations, “whether publication of average prices for particular legal services would be more helpful than misleading for customers.”

In its letter, the LSB also spoke of the “burden for practitioners” that the need to calculate and publish these averages would create. Furthermore, the matter of reaching an agreed and auditable methodology for calculating average prices, the LSB said, “could be challenging.”

Nonetheless, the Legal Services Consumer Panel’s recommendations were not outright opposed by the board either. Rather, the LSB said that it could not “reach a firm view on this recommendation” without it being subjected to further discussion and more detailed analysis of evidence.

The Legal Services Consumer Panel also made a number of other recommendations. These included the publication of complaints records, and the suggestion that regulators could use a “mystery shopping” approach to assess the quality of legal advice given by practitioners on sensitive or high-risk legal issues and then publish the results of this research. The LSB also expressed reservations about this suggestiion, saying that regulators “cannot (and should not) directly oversee practitioners when they serve their clients.” The board supported the principle of improving the understanding approved regulators have of the quality of advice being given in the legal industry, but said that the proposed research could be an expensive way to “only provide a snapshot in time for a small sample of practitioners.”

The Law Society on the Future of Legal Services

Future

The Law Society recently published a report in which it detailed its vision for the future of the legal services industry. In its Future of Legal Services report, the Society details how it believes the sector is going to evolve in the years leading to 2020.

Some of the changes that the Society expects to take place will represent a significant shift in the way that legal services operate, most particularly in where work is carried out and by whom. In light of reductions in the number of private clients who can afford professional legal support as a result of cuts to legal aid, the Law Society expects fewer solicitors to work in the consumer sector. By contrast, the number of solicitors working with business is expected to grow as a result of “unbundling” of work by clients. Another significant shift involving business law that the Society expects to take place over the next few years is significant growth in the in-house sector.

Changes to competition within the legal services sector are also expected to be significant. More and more businesses from other sectors may begin competing with dedicated law firms in the provision of legal services through Alternative Business Structure (ABS) licenses. The growth of the in-house legal sector may encourage more businesses to make use of the assets and expertise that comprise their in-house legal teams to begin offering external services in this way. It is expected that some of the most serious ABS competition, in both domestic and international markets, could come from “Big Four” accountancies.

Some lawyers may cease operating as solicitors in order to take advantage of the recent changes to competition rules. Instead, many will give up the official title of solicitor, the Society expects, to instead start operating as non-lawyer providers of legal services and compete with traditional law firms.

Another change that the Society predicts will take place over the next five years is an increase in the average age of solicitors. This will have knock-on effects, including difficulties for small and medium-sized firms when it comes to covering runoff.

Many firms are also expected to shrink the number of mid-ranking employees in favour of those at the top and bottom of the ladder. Employment numbers in certain positions and at some levels are also likely to be impacted by the continued growth of technology. This could mean fewer solicitors are employed by many firms, as a combination of automated systems and paralegals will be better able to handle much of the work that currently falls into solicitors’ hands.

Steps to Take Following an Accident or Injury

Have you been injured because of the negligence of a person or a company? If you have, the things you do next will determine whether you will win or lose your court case when you attempt to win monetary damages from the responsible party. There are important steps you must take and pieces of evidence that must be collected in the proper order. Failure to do even one of these things will severely damage your case and limit your lawyer’s ability to argue on your behalf in a court of law. Here are some of the most important things to do when you have been injured:

1. File a police report

You need to make sure everything is properly documented with law enforcement. This is especially true if you believe that you have sustained injuries that will cause you to miss extensive time from your job. A police report will be very valuable if you think you are going to need to sue the negligent party to get money that you are owed for your medical expenses and your lost wages.

2. Talk to witnesses

When you go to court, you will need to prove that events unfolded exactly how you claim they did. The police report will definitely help you to do this. However, you can never have too much evidence supporting your case. This is why it is crucial that you talk to every person who was in the area and witnessed the accident when it happened. Take notes about exactly what they saw. Your lawyer will need this information later if he or she decides to call them as witnesses during your case. Ideally, you need to find people who clearly saw what happened and have a vivid memory of specific details that could support your claim that you were the victim of negligence. Do not forget to get the name, address and phone number of all the people you talk to. Your lawyer may want to talk to these people further to determine if they are good candidates to be called as witnesses.

3. Contact a personal injury lawyer

Your first phone call after your accident should be to an experienced personal injury lawyer. You should try to find one with at least five years of experience handing personal injury cases. Look for a lawyer who specializes in personal injury law. This will ensure that he or she knows all of the intricate details of the personal injury laws in your area. Consider calling HSH lawyers if you are in need of a personal injury lawyer in Kitchener. Their skilled trial lawyers have dealt with personal injury cases for more than three decades. You can go to http://www.hshlawyers.com/offices/kitchener/ to find out what they can do for you.

4. Set up a consultation

You will need to meet with several lawyers before you decide to hire one. Most lawyers offer a totally free consultation that will allow you to explain your case. The lawyer will then tell you if he or she believes that you have a legitimate shot of winning the case if you decide to sue the person or company you believe is responsible for your injury. In some cases, the lawyer may tell you that there is simply not enough evidence of negligence to move forward. You will need to decide if you want to give up or go to a different lawyer.

Human Rights Law & Personal Injury Claims

Recent years have seen several far reaching reforms enacted to the UK justice system.

Such reforms have encompassed legal aid funding, legal reform, and an emphasis on arbitration and mediation in courts and tribunals, which will further impact upon the provision of justice. 2014 also saw the implementing of new contracts for police station solicitors; the tender process, and the actual contracts, were widely condemned and criticised by many in the legal sector.

The overall impact of such reforms has been to essentially deny justice to many thousands of average, households in the UK, a fact which the legal sector has raised in no uncertain terms. Most of the legal reforms are ultimately (but not entirely) a simple cost cutting measure, amidst reduced public funding and a slow, painful economic recovery. However, to an extent, the legal reforms, and the ensuing limited access to justice, are, ironically, potentially illegal.

Human Rights law, both domestic and EU, requires and allows for a full and impartial trial, with adequate and proper legal representation throughout any legal proceedings. Articles 5 and 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) addresses this, as does the Human Rights Act (1998). The recent legal reforms mentioned, however, seriously challenge that fundamental legal and human right.

A good example here is employment law. This is an increasingly touchy and emotive area of law as job security and zero hours contracts are a major current legal issue. Aside from that, employers have a responsibility for the health and safety of their staff, visitors and contractors in the workplace. If health and safety rules and regulations are breached, there can be accidents and injuries at work. Such accidents can range from a few cuts and blisters, to sprained ankles, to broken limbs, to long term chronic medical conditions developing. The result of an injury at work can be to cost the business greatly in productivity and lost working hours, as well as on-going support for injured employees; HSE figures for 2012/13 show that the estimated cost of workplace injuries and health issues arising was just over £14 billion. Of course, economics aside, that is nothing compared to the human cost for those actually injured.

The law enshrines the right of the injured party to make such an injury at work claim, under tort and civil law. Amidst such legal reforms, it would be very hard for the average employee to take their legal claim to court. Although the (2014) average wage nationally in the UK was £26,500, inflation, debts and the rising cost of living severely reduces the amount of money an average employee would have fund a legal case. Further, the great majority of unskilled workers (often in industries prone to severe workplace injuries) actually earn more in the £10,000 – £13,000 bracket (2014 figures), or less. Amidst the legal reforms, bringing a simple workplace injury claim to court is therefore far beyond the means of the average employee.

In the personal injury sector, however, many cases continue to be funded by Conditional Fee Agreements (CFA). With a CFA, litigants only pay their lawyers on the understanding that their case will be won, and that compensation will be awarded. Litigants do not pay if their case is unsuccessful. If it were not for the system of CFA funding, many personal injury litigants, be they injured at the workplace or indeed elsewhere, would simply not be able to obtain the justice that they are entitled to under law.

Employment law, and personal injury law aside, there are many areas of law (such as family) where it is simply too costly in time, effort, procedure and money, for people to obtain justice- contrary to human rights law.

The legal sector has tried to protest this, and to raise this very serious concern. The government is more concerned with the Budget and economic recovery, as opposed to such legal niceties. The fact remains that the reforms are potentially illegal, as they deny justice to many, in breach of human rights law.

One government response has been to put in the 2015 Queen’s Speech plans to reform and replace current human rights legislation with a new Bill of Rights or similar. In that fashion, with new human rights principles, the government can no longer be said to be acting in breach of current human rights provisions that enshrine the right of all to seek a legal remedy in court.

Female Barristers Still Face Sexism

workplace sexism

A new report has highlighted high levels of sexism that women continue to face at the bar. Problems female barristers have to contend with, according to the report from the Bar Council, include inappropriate behaviour from their male colleagues and feeling pressured into pursuing “traditional” areas of practice for their gender.

The report, titled Snapshot: the experience of self-employed women at the bar, also highlighted the difficulty female barristers have in successfully balancing their career and their childcare requirements.

Some of the most prevalent problems they face, however, stem from the attitudes and behaviour of their male peers. While many respondents agreed that things were worse in this regard in the past, the attitudes of older generations of male barristers continue to influence their younger counterparts and sexism remains a serious problem. One respondent described how this kind of attitude “carries through the generations, junior silk to judge,” while another said that many male barristers seem to believe they are “existing in a children’s playground.” The latter went on to describe a habit among these barristers of saying “grossly disrespectful things because nobody is going to stop them.”

Partly as a result of these kinds of sexist attitudes, many women describe being pressured into pursuing areas of practice seen as traditionally more appropriate for women, mainly family law or sexual crime. One respondent described being openly told, upon mentioning her intention to pursue a career in criminal law to a male sponsor, “you’ve got no hope, all women have to do family law.”

Another described her experiences of being pressured into pursuing a career in sexual crime as a result of being “pigeon-holed” on account of her gender. She described how the combination of the stress that goes with a career in the law and the need to deal with women who had been through the traumatic experience of rape proved detrimental to her wellbeing.

Regarding issues of childcare, the report described how some chambers are supportive of women taking maternity leave but others try to discourage them from part time work. Issues like this, the report concluded, are forcing some women to leave their careers at the bar after becoming mothers.

Bar Council chair Alistair MacDonald QC said in response to the report “While there is clearly no problem in attracting women to the bar, with women and men joining the bar in equal numbers, the report identifies a number of new and significant challenges experienced by women working within the profession.” He also noted that “while most of the examples of sexism, harassment and discrimination quoted in the report are historical,” such behaviour is still a challenge that women at the bar must face.

For further information on sexual discrimination in the workplace, visit http://www.employmentsolicitors.co/discrimination-claims/sexual-discrimination/.

Supreme Court Makes Major Decision on Director Responsibility

The Supreme Court has handed down a potentially landmark decision in the case of Jetivia SA and another v Bilta (UK) Limited (in liquidation) and others [2015]. The ruling could have major implications in future cases where the directors of companies in liquidation face charges of fraud.

The defence mounted in this case, which the court unanimously rejected, would have seen two directors of an insolvent company rely on their own wrongdoing to escape responsibility and avoid paying damages. In order to do so, they cited the precedent set by a previous, very unpopular decision from the case of Stone & Rolls Limited v Moore Stephens.

In the case recently ruled upon by the Supreme Court, the two directors of defunct company Bilta were being sued for damages on behalf of that company by its liquidators. Acting in conjunction with others, whose responsibility is also established by the ruling, they are accused of neglecting their duties to the company as directors and deliberately engaging in fraudulent transactions through Bilta for personal gain, most of which involved the European Emissions Trading Scheme Allowances. Upon Bilta being forced to close down in 2009, the liquidators attempted to claim damages on Bilta’s behalf from the two former directors. Any compensation payments gained through the case would be used to help pay back those who were owed money by the company when it was forced to go into liquidation.

The two defendants and their accomplices attempted to mount an illegality defence. They claimed that because they had used the company to carry out their fraudulent transactions, Bilta was unable to make any claim against them. Because of their actions, they claimed, it was a criminal company and a tax fraud vehicle, and therefore had no right to damages. Had this defence been accepted, it would have meant that the very fact they were guilty of fraud meant that they could not be sued for their offences.

However, the Supreme Court rejected this defence unanimously, and this could prove an important decision for similar cases in the future. Where the unpopular ruling in the Stone & Rolls Limited v Moore Stephens case opened up the possibility of mounting such an illegality defence in similar cases, the more recent ruling may have closed this potential loophole.

The defence also claimed that section 213 of the Insolvency Act, under which the action against them was brought, did not apply extraterritorially and so was not valid for use in this case. The Supreme Court also ruled against this claim, and therefore established that Section 213 of this act can be used extraterritorially in future cases.

New Dispute Resolution Model and Online Help System Proposed

Online Help

A report from human rights group Justice, entitled Delivering Justice in an Age of Austerity, has proposed a new model for dispute resolution. The model is designed to deliver better, more equal access to justice in a more cost-effective way than the current system.

The proposed process would see the handling of civil claims supported by an integrated information service encompassing both the internet and a telephone helpline.

Registrars would form an integral part of the model, managing cases proactively. A registrar would also be trained to have in-depth knowledge of specific areas, in order to provide specialist help with disputes of those kinds. These registrars would have to hold recognised legal qualifications, and would have the power to refer cases to a judge, strike out statements, or to undertake either mediation or early neutral evaluation.

In many ways, the recommendations made by Justice for the proposed new dispute resolution model in many ways line up with previous recommendations made by the Civil Justice Council in February. However, Justice put forward the possibility of a wider remit for a dispute resolution process using this model compared to the Civil Justice Council. The report suggested that this kind of system could be used at the first instance across tribunals as well as civil courts.

In their report, Justice expressed the opinion that a model of this sort could ultimately go on to deliver cost savings over the longer term. It would also provide a fairer and more equal system for those claimants who lack access to professional legal advice, particularly following the ever-controversial cuts to the legal aid budget. Indeed, the report was produced in response to legal aid cuts as well as with cuts to the budget of the HM Courts & Tribunals Service, which have left many individuals without access to professional legal advice and assistance and therefore struggling to properly enforce their rights.

The integrated online and telephone advice service, in particular, is pushed by the report as a way to provide accessible and professional legal advice across the board in a way that is cost-effective for the public purse. According to the report, it would take two years to develop the online service following the agreement of sufficient funding.

Andrew Caplen, president of the Law Society, said that he thought the proposals represented an “interesting development” in the debate surrounding the future of legal advice. However, he also said that the proposed technological solution was not a substitute for actual legal representation.

Caplen said: “Quality representation, particularly when one side is represented by a lawyer, is essential. Our 2015 election manifesto emphasises our call for the next government to ensure that every individual has effective access to justice.”

Call for Better Protections From “Unlawful” Government Snooping

Snooping

The government has admitted to having “unlawful” policies on intercepting communications that take place between lawyers and clients. The admission has prompted a call from professional bodies in the legal industry for better protection of professional privilege.

According to emails sent by the Treasury Solicitor’s Department and released by Reprieve, a charity specialising in legal activism, “since January 2010 the policies and procedures for interception/obtaining, analysis, use, disclosure and destruction of legally privileged material have not been in accordance with human rights legislation.”

The government admitted that its policies were unlawful in the course of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal’s proceedings. Specifically, it made the admission in submissions as the tribunal hears the case brought against the government Abdul Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar, two Libyans who were returned to their home country in 2013 as part of a joint UK-US operation. Filing their case in 2013, Belhaj and Bouchar claimed that confidential communications with their solicitors had been intercepted by the UK’s intelligence service while they were detained. The government was forced to admit in November that this was indeed the case.

Cori Crider, the lawyer who is representing Belhaj and Boudchar, accused the government of allowing intelligence agencies an excessive degree of freedom to intercept conversations between lawyers and clients.

The Law Society was also critical of the government following the admission that policies were not lawful. The Society said that the documents released to the tribunal demonstrated that the laws currently in place to protect professional privilege are not sufficient.

In a statement, the Society said: “The absence of explicit protection for legal professional privilege in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) has been of longstanding concern to the Law Society and we have raised our concerns with the Home Office.”

The statement went on to say that “Legal professional privilege is essential to the administration of justice and a pillar of rule of law.” The Society stressed the importance of allowing people to be open and honest when discussing matters with their lawyer without being afraid that the information revealed in these conversations would later be passed on to a judge or brought up in the courtroom.

The Bar Council was similarly critical, with bar chairman Alistair MacDonald QC saying: “Spying on conversations protected by legal professional privilege is fundamentally unacceptable and constitutes a breach of the rule of law.”

Recent legislation introduced to combat terrorism, he said, had done much to undermine “this centuries-old principle.”

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