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News in brief: firm buys PI caseload for £1m, Law Society plans model CFA and DBA, and more

Neil Hudgell spends £1m to buy caseload

Acquisitive personal injury firm Neil Hudgell Solicitors has purchased £1m worth of casework from Hull-based QualitySolicitors Lockings, one of the founders of the QualitySolicitors network.

In the past two years Neil Hudgell has bought four legal practices outright and caseloads from eight firms as it looks to work with firms exiting personal injury and clinical negligence.

Managing director Neil Hudgell said: “This is the latest in a series of deals and the third deal we’ve done involving acquisitions from members of the QualitySolicitors network. We’re actively looking to purchase other firms or caseloads as part of our growth strategy.”

Law Society plans model agreements

The Law Society is planning to publish a new model conditional fee agreement, as well as its first model damages-based agreement, Legal Futures can reveal.

The plan is to publish them, together with supporting practice notes, by 1 April.

[1]

Bott: tenfold increase in pre-med offers

Aviva plan risks more fraud, claims Bott

Well-known claimant solicitor David Bott has hit out at Aviva’s call [2] to make claimants deal directly with insurers, rather than instruct solicitors, arguing that it will only encourage the behaviour the insurer says it wants to stamp out.

In a detailed rebuttal of Aviva’s plan, Mr Bott – former president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers – said insurers are already trying to deal directly with claimants by making pre-medical offers.

“I have seen a tenfold increase in insurers making pre-medical offers to claimants. So has this direct dealing assisted claimants? In my view and experience, these offers are invariably as low as possible and promote the very behaviour insurers say they want to eradicate.

“If an unscrupulous individual knew there was a good chance of his claim being dealt with by a phone call and no medical examination, is that person more or less likely to make a bogus claim?

“Also, is not asking the person who is paying the money to decide how much to pay an inherent conflict of interest? Most insurer pay-outs on the lower value claims are arrived at via a computerised system, it is not beyond comprehension for the system to place values at the lower end of the scale, or for them to be discounted. Further what incentive is there for the law to evolve or for awards to increase under the proposed structure?”

Discount rate challenge

Claimants have to reveal how they invest their damages to ensure an informed debate during the Ministry of Justice’s second consultation on the discount rate [3], leading insurance law firm Kennedys has said.

Partner Christopher Malla said: “The government is now asking whether the current discount rate is too low. The consultation accepts there is evidence to show recipients of lump sum awards do not invest in index-linked government stocks (ILGS) but invest in a mixed portfolio where the rate of return is greater than ILGS and the current DR of 2.5%.

“Our work on the first discount rate consultation also indicated this, and the onus must now be on claimants to provide real evidence they invest solely in ILGS and that their compensation runs out because it is insufficient.

“The government also wants to understand why periodical payments are not used more widely.  We regularly ask the same question. If claimants want risk-free protection in high-value claims, they should avoid a lump-sum payment in favour of an annual periodical payment, which would be index linked, tax free and paid for the duration of their life regardless of actual life expectancy.  If not, then they should not be treated as a special investor.

“Life expectancy is the other major constituent in calculating a claimant’s lump sum award.  The accuracy or otherwise of life expectancy estimates used to calculate lump sum awards may provide even greater reason for claimants to opt for periodical payments.”

LEI “will protect claimants’ damages from solicitors”

Legal expenses insurance (LEI) will play an important role in protecting claimants’ damages from deductions by solicitors, an LEI provider has claimed.

Richard Finan, a director of Arc Legal, said the end of recoverability of success fees meant claimants without LEI “will face potentially significant deductions from their damages”. Further, if the proposed cut to RTA portal fees goes ahead, “solicitors may look to make up the shortfall from damages-based agreements”.

He argued: “The levels of cost exposure demonstrate what an important role legal expenses insurance will continue to play in protecting the damages received by claims while improving their access to justice.”

Brain Injury Group grows

The Brain Injury Group has appointed two new directors and three new suppliers to support its work in the medico-legal sectors.

Mark Beaumont joins from Just Costs Solicitors as a full-time director, while Geoff Silva also takes a director role while retaining an active role in Silva Legal Services, which provides pagination services to clinical negligence and personal injury solicitors.

The new suppliers are medical reports company Premex; Re:Cognition Health, which provides a “complete service” to patients presenting with symptoms of cognitive impairment; and Silva Legal Services.

The additions follow a restructure last year for the Brain Injury Group, when Sally Dunscombe, one of the founders, became the sole owner. They also reinforce the existing supplier base that includes original shareholders Nestor Partnership, an independent financial advice service; Independent Living Solutions, a case management and rehabilitation company; and Just Costs.

Meeting the Jackson mediation challenge

A barrister and solicitor have taken up Sir Rupert Jackson’s challenge to produce a neutral and definitive Mediation Handbook that is made available to all legal and insurance practitioners.

Jonathan Dingle, of 218 Strand Chambers, and Judith Kelbie, a managing partner of Yorkshire firm 7 Solicitors, have published The Mediation Handbook 2013/2014, an open source free PDF/eBook download. The 170-page publication, produced with the London School of Mediation, includes a guide to preparing for mediation. The pair are respectively a mediator and director of Trust Mediation.

Download the Handbook here [4].

Kroll and Hudson unveil e-disclosure partnership

Kroll Ontrack and Hudson Legal have announced an e-disclosure partnership that combines their respective expertise in technology and document review.

Hudson, best known as a recruitment company, now also provides managed review services and will in future use Kroll Ontrack’s online review platform, Ontrack Inview, which automatically distributes documents to review teams and actively learns from its solicitor ‘trainers’.

Dean Hager, president and CEO of Kroll Ontrack, said: “This technology, coupled with Hudson’s deep expertise in document review, will produce unsurpassed results for our clients.”