I cannot be the only one getting pretty sick of hearing about compensation culture, increasing motor insurance premiums caused by greedy Solicitors in “grubby offices”, and the fact that society as we know it is sagging to its collective knees under the weight of personal injury claims.
I cannot help thinking that it is about time we got a grip. In and amongst the arguing, back-stabbing, and high-horseness, everybody seems to have forgotten what a Solicitor actually does.
The Cambridge dictionary describes a Solicitor as “a type of lawyer in Britain and Australia who is trained to prepare cases and give advice on legal subjects and can represent people in lower courts”. A lawyer is “someone whose job is to give advice to people about the law and speak for them in court”.
The fundamental principal of both definitions is that the law has to have already been made in order for advice to have been given. Sure, there are occasions when a case will unexpectedly end up in the Supreme Court and change a thread of common law forever, but on an everyday basis we as Solicitors take instructions from client, tell them what the law is, and advise on their options. It has always been like that and it always will be.
I should take exception to the plethora of articles blaming me, as a personal injury lawyer, for causing accidents, increasing claims, and making everybody’s insurance premiums rise, but I do not. The simple reason for that is that all of the accusations are borne out of ignorance, both of the law and of what a lawyer does.
Let me tell you what I do. I talk to a client and he tells me he was in an accident in which somebdoy drove in to the back of his car. It was the other driver’s fault, he was busy on his phone ranting about his insurance premium. Client says he went to hospital, was diagnosed with “whiplash”, and that it may take several weeks or months to heal. He asks what he can do. I reply that the law of negligence allows him to seek damages for his losses. He would like to go ahead. I tell him that the Government removed Legal Aid for personal injury work, so he can either pay me for the work I do or he can take advantage of the Government’s alternative to Legal Aid, the Conditional Fee Agreement. He asks what that is, and I tell him. He likes the sound of that, and as a conscientious Solicitor who wants to do the best for my client I agree it is a good option. The case falls within the remit of the MoJ portal scheme and I start the case. Liability is accepted, we get a medical report without any medical records (because the Government says I am not allowed to unless the expert really needs them) and I send it to the other side. I make the first offer, because the Government says I have to, and the other side counter, until we have an agreement. Client gets his damages, untouched, and I get paid a set fee based upon what the Government has told me I am supposed to get paid (after, I might add, a great deal of consultation with the ABI, APIL, Law Society, and various other interested bodies).
At what point did I make the client run a case? I did not even know him before he first telephoned me and I certainly did not see the accident occur. I do not know whether it did actually happen. I do not know whether he was injured, nor whether he did go to hospital, because I wasn’t there. I don’t know how long he will be injured for, because I am not a doctor and I do not know how soft tissues respond to strain. I have been in two accidents myself and I did not suffer any injuries, so I did not claim, but I am open to the possibility that somebody could be injured in that way. Who am I to dispute what an expert says? I haven’t lied, cheated, forced a claim, exaggerated injuries, made them up completely, and if my client has I don’t even know about it.
Here is my plea to the Government, and to the people of Britain. I don’t ask you to like me. I understand that you hope to never set eyes on me, because I know that if you do something has gone wrong. But I do ask you to take the time to understand what a lawyer does. Once you have accepted that I do not make the law, I just administer it, you can focus your attention on the real villains who do actually create the law. What you do with that information is up to you….