The recent case of the Raleys Solicitors being found in breach of its duty to clients is only the tip of the iceberg of a serious de-skilling problem in personal injury work, according to one consultancy firm.
Citadel Law says that the recent ruling against Raleys for misjudging the severity of a vibration white finger case, with its reliance on questionnaires rather than direct contact with the client a major cause, is an example of poor practice that can be found across the country.
Lesley Graves, managing director of Citadel Law says that she has uncovered evidence that similar approaches by other solicitors is having even more damaging outcomes for clients in her work auditing personal injury law firms.
She says that up to 10% of cases deemed to be low-value have actually involved more serious injuries and were missed because of IT-led processes operated by under-qualified fee-earners.
“Of course, there needs to be a strong element of process in low-value PI cases, but process must be underpinned by strong legal expertise at key points," said Graves.
"Quite simply, lawyers have to lead the case, not the technology, not least because the consequences of undervaluing a serious case could be devastating to both the client and the firm.
“The evidence points to a de-skilled profession that lacks the basics of evidence-gathering to prove a claim and of how to access appropriate rehabilitation for clients. Furthermore, an over-reliance on medical agencies to select and instruct experts, coupled with a lack of understanding of the technical skills required to build a claim, means that firms are missing the value in their caseload.”
Graves added that in the best PI firms, low-value volume work processes are set up to ensure that legal expertise is introduced at critical points, thus ensuring a proper evaluation of liability, quantum and costs. Without such an approach, she said, many claimant firms could be at risk of facing negligence claims.
“PI lawyers have had quite a kicking of late and in some respects quite unfairly," she said.
"Many rule changes have been brought in with less than adequate time to prepare but PI lawyers can adapt if they ensure that process is driven by true expertise.”