The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) needs to do more to crack down on law firms that take cases from companies that generate leads through cold-calling, the new president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) has said.
Brett Dixon also warned claimant lawyers that they should consider Conservative plans to reform PI claims “paused” and not shelved, in light of the commitment in last week’s manifesto.
Though APIL and other claimant groups have been calling for a ban on PI cold-calling – and last week’s Conservative manifesto said a Tory government would consider one – the SRA code of conduct already prohibits solicitors from accepting referrals acquired as a result of cold calling.
Mr Dixon acknowledged that, despite this, “there must be a market” for such leads or the companies making the calls would not bother – “but it’s certainly not our members”, he added.
Speaking to Legal Futures after taking the helm at APIL’s annual conference in Newport last week, he said: “I think there’s more that the SRA can do.”
An SRA spokesman said: “The code of conduct makes it clear that solicitors should not accept any instructions from clients engaged through cold-calling. If we are given concrete evidence that this is happened, we will take appropriate action.”
With the polls saying that the Tories will win next month’s election, the manifesto pledge to tackle whiplash claims seems likely to mean that the Prison & Courts Bill will be revived.
Mr Dixon agreed that, though the original timeline may be delayed, the reforms may well return in substantially the same form. The APIL lobbying campaign was primed and ready to go if and when they did, he said.
He accepted the criticism that the claimant industry let itself down by not coming up with a unified position in the face of the 2013 LASPO reforms.
But while APIL is working with the Law Society and Motor Accidents Solicitors Society this time around – in the so-called ‘strategic alliance’ – there are others, such as the Access to Justice group and trade union firm Thompsons, that have been ploughing their own furrows. Might they all be able to come together this time around?
There is clearly some way to go – for example, there are aspects of Access to Justice’s alternative claims framework that APIL does not feel able to sign up to at the moment – but Mr Dixon said: “The goal has got to be to see if we can reach a common agreement and approach. I’m going to see if I can make it happen.”
His core message is the need for systemic fairness. As he declared to delegates in his conference speech: “Not fairness for injured people balanced with fairness for well-heeled insurance company shareholders, but just and equitable solutions which provide a level playing field to help us to get the right results for the people we represent.”
And in his speech, Mr Dixon suggested that anti-claimant attitudes might be starting to change.
“What are the signs? Is it significant that the NHSLA is to be renamed NHS Resolution with a focus on quicker settlements and prevention of catastrophic injury?
“Is it significant that the justice committee gave the insurance industry the first really hard time I, at least, can remember over its approach to, and its rhetoric about, whiplash claims?
“Is it significant that the weakness of the insurers’ arguments about small claims reform was so exposed in front of the Prisons and Courts Bill committee?
“I think it is. Of course, sound research and consistent arguments don’t always win political fights, especially when we’re pitted against the huge, well-resourced interests of big business… But David did beat Goliath. If we can keep chipping away, working to change the hearts and minds of as many as we can, we can still make a real difference.
“Incremental gains can make a very big difference in the long term and we are in this for the long term.”