The new president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) today warned of the emergence of a new breed of 'dumbed-down, legal-lite' lawyer following the introduction of alternative business structures.
Addressing APIL's annual conference, David Bott (pictured) predicted that 'potentially massive' new entrants to the personal injury market will be 'very efficient', but 'process-driven', voicing fears that these ABSs will not prioritise the needs of injured people.
'How much free thought, intellect and empathy will be used by this process-driven lawyer?
‘My view is that the new breed is likely to be dumbed down,' said Bott, who runs medium-sized Cheshire practice Bott & Co.
'Ironically, claimants might at first prefer to deal with this new breed of legal-lite adviser, but that happiness may only last until the claimant has a problem, or until their particular, individual injury does not fit into the rigidly defined, immovable process being used by the ABS.
‘Because these new firms could be like hulking steam trains; fantastic at moving ahead but useless at moving in any other direction.'
Bott predicted that PI lawyers who offer a similar service but with 'intellect, agility and a genuine care for the client' can still prosper: ‘The ABS can be quick and wrong, whereas we can be quick and right.'
Inevitably the conference, attended by several hundred delegates at the Celtic Manor resort in Wales, has been dominated by talk of the government's wholesale adoption of Lord Justice Jackson's recommendations on civil litigation costs.
Bott received spontaneous applause as he delivered a damning verdict on the government's indifference to the claimant lobby.
'We are told by the government that 'access to justice for all parties depends on costs being proportionate and unnecessary cases being deterred,' he said.
'"Proportionate", according to Jackson, has no relevance to whether the work was necessary, just on how much it costs. And for unnecessary cases, read anything that insurers don't like.
'The only party to benefit from these proposals is the negligent defendant, or moreover his insurance company, which has collected a premium to pay out in the event of a claim.
‘At the heart of these proposals is a movement of costs away from the negligent defendant and on to the innocent claimant. That is just plain wrong.'
APIL has until 30 June 'to make the injured person's views heard', said Bott, though he warned that justice minister Jonathan Djanogly 'does not see this issue from the claimant's perspective'.
He added: 'I will be doing all I can to disabuse him and Kenneth Clarke of the view that is is OK to under-compensate people.'
APIL is known to be cool on Jackson's recommendation to extend the limit for claims to be processed through the road-traffic-accident (RTA) claims portal from £10,000 to £50,000.
Bott reiterated its opposition, pointing to continuing problems with the portal, such as an inability to amend mistakes and the fact it does not always reflect CPR.
'As a director of Portal Co, let's make this one work better, before we look at extending [it],' he said.
Bott was also dismissive of Lord Young's proposals to extend the portal to cover all claims up to £50,000, accusing Young of being motivated principally by a desire to 'rein back' health and safety legislation.
'Taking care of people is not an option in the 21st century, it is a basic expectation.
‘If there is to be an expansion of the portal, then please let's make the RTA portal the fully functioning, easy-to-use portal that injured people deserve first.'
Bott went to bemoan the demise of the Coroners and Justice Act and Civil Law Reform Bill, and government inertia over the Employers' Liability Insurers Bureau, which would create a fund of last resort for workplace claims.
'The [ELIB] consultation which started in the dying days of the last government appears to have been kicked into the long grass,' he said, 'while a new EL Tracing Office for tracing future claims has been introduced at breakneck speed. So where is that going to leave people struggling to obtain redress for past exposure? Why should people subsidise the insurance industry?'
Source: The Law Society Gazette
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