The Jackson reforms will force personal injury (PI) solicitors to move away from a volume process-driven approach that has led to a deskilling of the profession in recent years, a boutique personal injury consulting law firm has predicted.
Citadel Law, an SRA-regulated law firm, said high levels of legal expertise will be driven to the fore by the need to case and cost plan on the multi-track, allowing firms with such skills to charge higher rates.
Further, the Draconian new limits on low-value cases will encourage solicitors to examine claims more closely to check if injuries are more serious than they at first appear, said Citadel founder and managing director Lesley Graves.
From her past auditing work at many law firms, Ms Graves estimated that up to 10% of cases deemed to be low-value have actually involved more serious injuries – such as brain and psychological damage – missed because of IT-led processes operated by under qualified fee earners.
“There are many parts of the Jackson reforms that are positive, and client-focused law firms are rolling up their sleeves and adopting a ‘back to basics’ approach to litigation ensuring absolute focus on client care and getting the best result in rehabilitation and compensation,” she said.
“Of course there needs to be a strong element of process in low-value PI cases, but process must be underpinned by strong legal expertise at key points to ensure a proper evaluation of a case and avoid negligence. The lawyers have to lead the case, not the technology, not least because the consequences of undervaluing a serious case could be devastating to both the client and the firm. Firms without the expertise to do this will not survive much longer.
“The new requirement to prospectively set costs budgets in multi-track cases means expert case planning is vital; experienced PI lawyers who put their clients’ needs and case and cost planning at the heart of the process from day one will succeed. Many firms are increasing their hourly rates and reducing their caseloads, quite rightly, as a result of the expertise they have and they are set to be market leaders.”
Ms Graves argued that part of the problem is that in the rush to commoditisation in PI over previous years – in part driven by new entrants to the market attracted by quick profits – process has eclipsed the true expertise required to risk assess and run PI work effectively.
Ms Graves, a former partner at Irwin Mitchell, is supported by a core team of nine solicitors, plus additional consultants with backgrounds at the country’s leading PI firms, both claimant and defendant, who work with law firms to better understand their businesses by improving processes and driving the maximum profit from their caseloads.
Citadel Law said it is also instructed by banks, accountants, private investors and others to advise as technical auditors of value and risk in PI firms and enhancement of systems.