That is the stark choice that most accident victims often never realise that they have. Would you prefer to be represented by a specialist solicitor or processed through a ‘claims factory’?
Sadly, the reality is that most accident victims are directed to ‘claims factory’ law firms either by their own insurance company or by claims companies advertising in the media, sometimes faced up by celebrities. In both cases, the law firm that is ‘appointed’ for them will have paid a hefty referral fee to the insurance company or claims company, often between £700 and £1,000.
The ‘appointed’ law firm therefore starts from a position where it is heavily out of pocket. This is magnified by the fact that many of the law firms buy thousands of claims each year. The amount of legal costs that the law firm is able to recover is often restricted by law, leaving a very small ‘margin’ to work with once the referral fee is taken into consideration. The pressure to both cut overheads and settle claims as quickly as possible is therefore immense.
The need to keep overheads low has meant that it has become the norm for a claim to be dealt with by somebody with no legal qualifications, working with an on-screen claims management system and strict settlement targets. It’s little wonder that people are often very frustrated by the time that they call us. We have had exclamations of “I hate my solicitor”, “my solicitor is rubbish” and “I don’t think my solicitor knows what they’re doing”. Sometimes the comments are worse than that!
It really begs the question as to why firms pay these huge sums of money for work. The answer is simple supply and demand. If a firm wishes to undertake this work and cannot attract it by reputation alone, it has little choice but to buy it in. At the same time the insurance industry has for many years been more than willing to swell its profits by selling claims. In fact, referral fees now account for a significant proportion of turnover for many insurance companies. Frankly, the whole system is scandalous.
What accident victims are rarely told is that they can instruct a solicitor of their choice. In fact, we regularly come across examples where people have been actively discouraged by insurance companies and claims companies from instructing a solicitor who is ‘not on the panel’. The reason for this is simply that if they instruct a solicitor of their choosing rather than a ‘panel solicitor’, the insurance company or claims company will not receive a referral fee.
In the majority of cases that we take over from ‘panel’ solicitors, the quality of advice given and service received has been at best bad and at worst, frankly, negligent. It is often clear that the person handling the claim has little knowledge of the law or litigation process and is under pressure to settle the claim as quickly as possible. Clients that have sought to question the advice given are effectively labelled and treated as troublemakers and additional pressure brought to bear upon them.
However, it should be remembered that changing solicitors is always a possibility at any stage of the claims process. Most specialist solicitors are more than happy to have an informal discussion with you about your claim. They may ask you to send to them copies of documents that you have such as medical reports and advice letters from your current solicitor. This will help to give them a better idea of how the claim has progressed so far. They should then be able to provide you with an ‘action plan’ of how they would propose to take the claim forward if they were to take over conduct of the claim. You can then decide whether to change solicitors. We have previously posted a blog on ‘Can I change my solicitor?‘ and our blog on ‘How do I change my solicitor?‘, looks in a little more detail at the mechanics of the process.