Posted by Michael Lewis, CEO of Legal Futures Associate Claim Technology

Lewis: Bar could step back in to replace solicitors

While discussing the Claims Liability Bill in the House of Lords last month, Conservative Baroness Berridge, a former barrister, voiced her concerns.

She argued that, while the bill may well support the government’s aim of reducing fraudulent personal injury (PI) claims, this could be at the expense of those most vulnerable, the claimants themselves.

“It is a high burden on your Lordships’ House to ensure that the bill hits the target of fraudulent claims as accurately as it can without the shrapnel hitting genuine claimants,” she said.

There is good reason for her to be apprehensive. The Access to Justice campaign estimates that, if the small claims limit rises as planned, as many as 90% of accident victims will be unable to pursue claims with legal assistance. The number of litigants in person (LiPs) will increase, and without the confidence or resources to see a claim through from beginning to end, many people may give up before they receive the compensation they deserve.

As well as the bill taking its toll on the claimants, businesses are set to suffer too. With law firms unwilling or unable to take on these claims, many smaller practices may withdraw from PI altogether. The campaign estimates the loss of 60,000 jobs for those who make a living from personal injury claims, not only lawyers, but also medical agencies, insurers and barristers’ chambers.

The desired outcomes are clear. Ensure that claimants have a way to access fair compensation and legal support after an accident, and provide options for diversifying, or new service models for anyone in the industry who faces the loss of employment due to the reforms. 

Let’s focus on barristers as an example. Their position in PI claims has changed over the years, making their role particularly interesting. Traditionally, they have been seen as advisory, ‘not getting their hands dirty’ when it came to the day-to-day management of clients and claims.

However, pre-2012, they may have been involved at key stages, mainly to offer expert advice and advocacy, allowing solicitors to take the brunt of the management on the ground.

More recently, thanks to the introduction of fixed fees and the claims portal, barristers have effectively been frozen out of most fast-track PI work. There is evidence to suggest that this is at the expense of the claimant, as according to an independent report commissioned by the Ministry of Justice in 2012, the portal was guilty of “producing settlements of pain, suffering and loss of amenity at 6% below the proper rate”.

With the reforms effectively removing the role of solicitors in managing the claims process for the client, however, the bar may be well placed to step back in and provide expert advice and advocacy.

We see self-serve technology as a way to help usher in a change for both claimants and businesses in the wake of the reforms. By streamlining the claims process, claimants can handle the majority of their case alone, allowing lawyers to charge for their expertise.

Success with this kind of technology is not new, one good example being American insurer Allstate, which allows claimants to upload photos or videos of damage directly from their mobile app, to receive a quote. Claimants can be guided with the steps they need to be taking to support their own claim, at no additional cost to the firm.

Now imagine this technology expanded, used to handle a claim from end to end. That’s our self-serve solution. Law firms can take a more ‘hands-free’ approach, while individuals still receive the support they need from legal experts, lessening the stress they realistically would be feeling as a LiP.

Self-serve technology opens the door for barristers to come back to the PI sphere, licensing the solution and offering support to clients where necessary, stepping in for advice and advocacy, just as they historically provided before fixed fees took them out of the game.

Preparing for the PI reforms with the help of the latest technology gives you a two-pronged approach for success. Firstly, you provide support to the genuine claimants who Baroness Berridge spoke out for last month, those who will be unprepared for the true consequences of the reforms. Secondly, you protect yourself, adapting your service model to ensure you stay relevant as a business.


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