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Yesterday’s Law Society Gazette included an article regarding the introduction of fixed costs in medical negligence cases.

For those who do not know, fixed costs means that the client is only entitled to recover a fixed amount of legal costs, set by the government, from the opponent if they win.  Such fixed costs are set artificially low in what we consider is a deliberate policy to reduce the number of claims.

For example, for a case that would generally cost around £10,000 for a law firm to run, the Government may set fixed costs of say £3,000.  Law firms cannot absorb all of this difference and so have to seek some of that difference from clients.

Medical negligence were exempt from such fixed costs, but that is no longer the case; some medical negligence cases are now also subject to fixed costs. The article speculated that the result of further fixed costs measures, including to medical negligence cases, would be that smaller specialist firms would suffer as it would be the larger firms that would cope better with this.

Whilst it is perhaps natural to assume bigger companies will always be in a stronger position to absorb harmful changes, not every industry is the same and, if our experiences are anything to go by, it is in fact the larger firms that may face the bigger problems.

To explain, around 12 years ago the government together with the insurance industry, began introducing numerous changes to the personal injury and medical negligence processes which, basically, resulted in law firms making less money per case.

As you might expect, a natural response to this would be to try to reduce operating costs and, when it comes to personal injury and medical negligence law firms, the most obvious thing to do is to replace senior solicitors with junior staff on lower salaries.

The problem with this though is that, as with other professions such as medicine,  experience and a proven track record of success are crucial factors in determining not only likelihood of success but also the likely size of any settlement.  Put simply: to win tough cases, and achieve high settlements, a solicitor must have done it before to have the experience to know what to do in those situations.

We made a commitment to ensure that every case is dealt with by a senior and proven solicitor, with an exemplary track record.  So far, this approach has enabled us to turn around numerous cases that had been failed or left in a poor state by larger firms.

Here are three recent examples in which we secured successes in cases closed by large firms:

 

£5.7m overall settlement for case closed by national firm Setfords Solicitors

Mr T suffered a back injury at work, which unfortunately deteriorated into severe pain.

Initially he was put in touch with large national firm Setfords, being a firm that has 320 registered solicitors.  After more than three years of investigation, and two senior barrister opinions, they advised him that he did not have a case.  He then tried another large personal injury firm being Irwin Mitchell, who declined to take on his case.

A contact of his put him in touch with us.  We reviewed his file and identified a number of potential strategies and lines of enquiry that Setfords had not explored and which, in our view, resulted in both barristers providing negative advice.

We adopted an entirely different case strategy which resulted in us being able to secure the support of two very senior barristers.  Whilst the case did indeed prove to be challenging, a fantastic multimillion pound settlement was ultimately achieved which will make an immeasurable difference to the client’s quality of life.

 

£105,000 for client passed around numerous junior staff at Slater and Gordon before being told he did not have a case

Mr L suffered an injury at work when an unsecured wagon door swung into his back, resulting in ongoing back pain.

He first tried large, national firm Slater and Gordon, a firm with 181 solicitors and 11 offices.  He was passed between numerous junior staff members, at no point having had the benefit of a senior solicitor.  He tried raising formal complaints but nothing was done.

Eventually, almost towards the end of the time limit for his claim, he was told he did not have a case and they closed his file.

Given they had closed his case with so little time left he then struggled to find another solicitor and was in fact rejected by 34 other law firms before approaching our firm.

When we reviewed the file however we spotted a number of key lines of enquiry that had not been followed up.  Upon pursuing those lines of enquiry we obtained useful statement evidence which resulted in the Defendant reversing their decision and admitting liability.  Subsequent settlement negotiations resulted in a strong settlement of £105,000.

 

£25,000 for client told by national firm Irwin Mitchell that he did not have a case

Mr R suffered a slipping injury at a supermarket leading to ongoing head, neck and backpain.

He initially instructed large, national firm Irwin Mitchell, a firm with 915 solicitors and 19 offices.  They investigated his case and submitted a claim to the supermarket’s insurance company.

When liability was denied however they advised him he did not have a case and closed his file.

A friend of his recommended that he approach our firm for a second opinion and upon doing so our review indicated that the case would in fact be likely to succeed and that Irwin Mitchell had overlooked a key piece of evidence.  We therefore accepted his case, began court proceedings and negotiated a strong settlement of £25,000.

 

Ms Emma Pearce, Solicitor and Business Development Manager comments:

Most larger firms appear to have now shifted to having cases handled by junior, and often unqualified, staff.  We think this is a mistake as those staff members lack the necessary knowledge and experience to win difficult cases and obtain high settlement values for clients, as the examples above show.

The extension of fixed costs is likely to lead to those same larger firms placing many more cases, including higher value cases, with junior and inexperienced staff and our experience tells us that those staff will not be able to get the best results for those clients (or in some cases, to even win the cases at all).

Many larger firms are also increasing the caseloads of those same junior staff members and there are reports of some firms requiring staff to operate 200 cases or more at a time.

We take on numerous rejected cases each year, including from the largest firms in the industry, and see the same basic mistakes being made on cases time and again.

Whilst the junior staff and high-volume model may be more profitable, in our view it is often a disservice to the clients and, in some cases, dangerous.  At Aston Knight Solicitors we have chosen the opposite direction and have recruited exclusively senior and very highly regarded personal injury and medical negligence solicitors in keeping with our mission to become one of the most highly regarded specialist firms in the country.  Every client is guaranteed a senior solicitor that meets our standards and all of our solicitors work closely together in a team to ensure the best possible result on every case.

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