Ninety five per cent of our clients start their claims with other law firms before they instruct us. These days the majority of inquiries that we receive are from clients of the big national claims firms who advertise on television. Their files are inevitably a disturbing read, revealing corner cutting, dumbing down, inexperience, poor (and regularly negligent) advice and appalling standards of basic client care. In the media they promise much; in reality they deliver little but disappointment. Their failure to properly represent their clients’ interests can literally cost an injured person their future.
Below are four simple questions that all claimants should ask their representative. The representative shouldn’t take umbrage at answering these questions. In fact, they should welcome the opportunity to address any concern a client may have. Remember, it’s their privilege to have you as a client, not the other way around.
What do you know about my condition?
Whilst your solicitor is unlikely to be medically qualified, you would expect an experienced specialist solicitor to have a good general knowledge of the injury and/or condition from which you are suffering. After all, if they have no knowledge of your condition, how can they properly advise you on obtaining appropriate medical evidence from the correct medical experts? Further, once medical evidence is available, if they have little or no knowledge of your condition, how can they review it with a critical eye, pose appropriate questions to the expert and consider with you the best treatment options? All too often we see examples of medical reports simply being taken at face value. Medical opinions can be unclear, contradictory or frankly wrong and your solicitor needs to be capable of dealing proactively with these issues.
Solicitors should always keep abreast of the latest developments in treatment. It is surprising how often medical experts overlook or discount recent developments, perhaps believing that a particular type of treatment is too new, or difficult to come by. A good example from a recent article is the availability of MRI-friendly spinal cord stimulators. This has proved to be great news for at least one of our clients!
Perhaps the best way to satisfy yourself that your solicitor understands your condition(s) is to ask them to provide you with a résumé of a similar case they have dealt with.
Are you legally qualified?
Whilst the assumption is that the person dealing with your claim must be a solicitor, the reality is often very different. We have considered this issue in more detail in an earlier article – ‘Is my solicitor really a solicitor?‘ The large national firms operate high volume, factory-type operations, staffed mainly by unqualified ‘fee earners’. These staff follow a set process on a screen and work to monthly settlement targets, ie they are expected to settle a minimum number of claims per month. The common feedback we have received from our clients who start their claims with these firms is that they feel under pressure to settle quickly, even when that is clearly wholly inappropriate.
How many clients do you currently represent?
The terrifying reality is that many firms expect each of their ‘fee earners’ to represent a vast number of clients simultaneously (we have heard of examples of 300 or more!). Clearly, that is not a situation that lends itself to providing good individual client care, if any client care at all! In fact, it is positively dangerous; processing rather than representing. We maintain that 25 to 30 clients is the absolute maximum that an experienced solicitor, let alone somebody inexperienced and unqualified, can represent simultaneously.
After all, a client can and should expect regular contact (including face-to-face contact), solid advice at each and every stage and a proactive, tactical and tailored approach to their claim. At all times a client should feel content and well informed; in fact, if the relationship is working as it should be, a client should develop a sense of trust in their solicitor. The solicitor should be contactable and the client shouldn’t feel like a nuisance when they make contact. This standard of representation – a standard that you are entitled to expect – is simply not possible if the representative has too many clients.
Do you use a medical reporting agency to obtain medical reports?
Most experienced solicitors will have a number of medical experts in a variety of specialisms with whom they work regularly. These should be highly respected consultants in active clinical practice, who have substantial experience of assisting the Court in their area of expertise.
Before instructing a medical expert, a solicitor should take a detailed medical history from their client, obtain and review their medical records and then draft a bespoke letter of instruction to the expert which should first be approved by their client.
Regrettably, however, many law firms delegate entirely the obtaining of medical evidence to a third party medical agency. Medical records are not reviewed, brief ‘standard’ letters of instruction are used and, unfortunately, the quality of the medical ‘experts’ and therefore their reports are often woeful. We regularly see cases where experts have been instructed in entirely the wrong specialism. Also, many so called ‘experts’ used by these agencies make their living entirely through producing medical reports, often on a production line basis, and have little if any recent clinical experience. When you put that in the context of law firms who are averse to constructively challenging medical opinion, the results are usually disastrous for the claim.
If you have attended a medical examination arranged through a medical agency, how was the experience? Were you happy with the report?
A final tip…
A Barrister, Julian Benson, has produced an excellent book, A Barrister’s Guide to your Personal Injury Claim, which is free to download from his website. We strongly recommend that all claimants read this book so as to better understand the process they are going through and to better judge whether they are receiving the high standard of representation they are entitled to.
Should you be unhappy with your solicitor or thinking ‘can I change my solicitor‘, one of our small team of specialist solicitors would be delighted to discuss your situation with you in the strictest confidence. Please call us on 01225 462871 or complete our contact form.