Yorkshire law firm Heptonstalls has joined forces with Call Brian, an automated personal injury claims system, to offer other firms a way to continue making money after the whiplash reforms come into effect.
We revealed the launch of Call Brian – set up by Claims Direct founder Tony Sullman – last September but the case referral model has recently been changed in light of experience.
Initially, law firms were to integrate the system with their own; once the whiplash reforms came into force – now scheduled for April 2021 – they would not receive any fees for processed cases, even if they needed to provide legal advice, but would retain drop-out claims.
Under the new model, firms transfer cases to Heptonstalls, an East Yorkshire law firm particularly known for industrial disease work.
It is operating the Call Brian system and sharing all fees with the referring firm 50/50 – after the reforms come in next year, users will be charged 25% of their damages under a conditional fee agreement, while Heptonstalls handles cases that fall out of the current or future portal.
The way the platform works has not changed. After the details are inputted, it carries out a compliant ID check, prepares retainer documents and sends automatic chaser messages to the client. In addition, medical appointments are automatically scheduled through the MedCo system.
Once the case has progressed, the system prepares the stage-two settlement packs so the claim can reach completion. In the event that an unusual circumstance means a lawyer’s advice is needed, Heptonstalls will provide it.
The firm reports that claims are closing in 16 weeks, significantly quicker than the average.
Mr Sullman said they had found it was better to run Call Brian through a single firm than multiple ones – while the firms received lower fees under the new model, the change meant they did not have to do any work at all and could focus instead on more complex and remunerative work.
He described such low-value claims as “a litigation production line” that was “not real law” – Call Brian “replaces 90% of what firms do”.
Where clients approach Call Brian directly through its own marketing activities, he has recruited a team of 11 paralegals to handle client care; Heptonstalls values the claim, a task that will fall away under the new regime with a fixed compensation tariff.
Mr Sullman was originally building a panel and signed up 17 law firms to it. There is no panel needed now.
He acknowledged that, with his background at Claims Direct and subsequent seven-year directors ban in 2009, solicitors “still look at me warily but still do business with me. They say: ‘I never made more money than the time I was with you.’”
He said Call Brian took two years to develop with Claim Technology and cost “the thick end of £1m”.
Shane Hensman, a director and head of industrial disease at Heptonstalls, described the system as “a bit of a dream – it’s all singing and all dancing”.
Call Brian took over a few hundred cases from former panel firms that have gone under in recent months and the solicitor said it would have been impossible for a firm like his, which “doesn’t do factory levels of RTAs”, to turn them around in 16 weeks.
He said the firm had done its due diligence on the system and he was confident that it would not miss subtle injuries that might indicate a claim was worth substantially more than £5,000.
Mr Hensman suggested that firms handling low numbers of RTAs would be “terrified” by clients coming to them with cases after next April because there would be no way of making a profit on them, while for firms that generate a lot of cases, the fees they would be able to charge would not cover the marketing costs.