Wednesday, 30 May 2012

In The Court of The King

It is the year of 2014 in a far off land. A junior prince has been elevated to the post of 'King of the Realm' by the all powerful 'Council of Insurance Lords' in recognition of his great work in defeating once and for all, the Claimant Peasant’s Revolt that had been plaguing the land for 25 years or more.

Setting: The King’s Palace   

                                                                          

The King is reclining on a settee watching the Jeremy Kyle programme on TV, whilst being fed grapes by two of his servants.

A courtier enters the room.

Courtier: “Sire, the Chief Insurer is here to see you.”

King: “About time too, he was supposed to be here an hour ago. Send him in.”

The courtier leaves the room and after a few moments, re-enters, followed by a plump man with a heavy sun tan.

Courtier: “Sire, the Chief Insurer.”

The Chief Insurer walks over to the King, and thinks about bowing, but decides against it.

Chief Insurer: “I apologise for my tardiness Sire, but I was waylaid by claimant beggars outside the Palace, who pulled at my fine clothes and tried to sell me personal injury claims.”

King: “But I thought I banned referral fees last year?”

Chief Insurer: (muttering) “WE banned referral fees!”

King: “What was that you said?”

Chief Insurer: “Oh nothing Sire, I was merely clearing my throat. Yes, Sire. We, I’m sorry, you did ban referral fees and for that, I and my fellow Insurance Lords are most grateful, but there are a minority of peasants who flout the law and roam the land trying to sell claims.”

King: “You told me that the claimant rebellion had been crushed and in any case, as we reduced solicitors fixed fees under the portal to £50 and raised the small claims track limit for PI’s to £100,000, there seems no point in the peasants trying to sell claims anyway.”

Chief Insurer: “Sire the rebellion has been crushed, but there remain a few renegades to be rounded up, and  some of these older claimant peasants they have been around for so long that they know of no other means of making a living.”

King: “No matter, now pray tell me, what is the news of the reduction in the cost of motorists premiums since I got rid of the claimant peasants and their fraudulent claims?”

Chief Insurer: “Sire?”

King: “The reduction in motorists insurance premiums! That is what you promised me would happen once I had won the war against the claimant peasants. You sold me the idea that if claimant peasants no longer blighted this land with their fraudulent claims and referral fees, that that would mean that the cost of insuring a motor vehicle for the average peasant, I mean motorist, would fall significantly due to the costs savings that would be made.”

Chief Insurer: (fidgets with the collar of his rather tight shirt) “Yes Sire, we do hope to achieve that..eventually. “

King: (Loudly)” Eventually! What do you mean eventually? What HAS been the saving?”

Chief Insurer:  (Fidgets with collar even more) “Well Sire, to date there has not actually been any saving.... (Gulps) in fact premiums have risen by 50% over the past 12 months.”

King:  (Roars) WHAT?

Chief Insurer: (Beads of perspiration now trickling down face) "Well Sire, you see we have had to pay heavy bonuses to the Insurance Lords, as a reward for their efforts in.... assisting you in defeating the claimants and ...and...we have of course had to reward the insurance peasants for all their hard work."

King: (Enraged) "Bonuses! I defeated the claimants single handed without any assistance from the Insurance Lords and as for the insurer peasant workers, you always told me that the majority of them were a useless, inefficient bunch!"

Chief Insurer: " Indeed Sire, the insurer peasant workers I did refer to in such terms, but they threatened that unless they were rewarded with some of the bounty - I mean savings in costs - that they would work to rule and instead of taking six weeks to deal with the post, they would take twelve.. .. and in addition Sire, there is another problem.."

King: (By now purple of face) “What other problem?”

Chief Insurer: “Well Sire, the remaining claimant peasants have found a new fraud to perpetrate. They have started driving their uninsured vehicles into the houses of friends who are then making claims on their buildings and contents insurance to have their houses refurbished and fitted with Surround Sound, 3D TV’s, new I-Pads, leather suites and so on and so you see those insurance premiums are now increasing and thus there are no savings, as yet, to pass onto the general peasants - I’m sorry- I mean policy holders..”

King: "I’ve heard enough. Guards have him removed. Chief Insurer I sentence you to be hanged from the RTA Portal. Take him away.”

Guards take away the Chief Insurer who is heard shouting, “but what about my severance pay” as he is dragged off down the corridor.

King:  “Courtier, fetch me the leader of the renegade claimant peasants. I think he and I need to talk...”

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Heads, Sand, Ostriches and all that....


                                                                         

A short article by John Hyde in the Law Society Gazette last week Prepare for 50% fee cuts, Says 'end of lawyers' professor produced the expected wide range of opinion on the predictions of Professor Robert Susskind. In the article Hyde outlines how Susskind, in an address to the Law Society Management Conference, warned that the economic climate will force clients to seek out firms that embrace the technological advances available in the legal profession  to enable them to reduce their legal costs. Susskind argued that bosses of both small and large companies will seek to reduce their legal spend by 50% over the next five years, as they look for ways of gaining 'more for less' through new pricing structures. Susskind went on to argue that there would be casualties amongst smaller firms and sole practitioners unless they are prepared to embrace new technologies, but for those prepared to embrace the new models, opportunities abound.

So no surprise that the first three comments added by readers in the comments section at the end of the article, covered all bases of opinion about Susskind's predictions. One said he was wrong, one said he was right and one said that some predictions would come true whilst others would not!

There were though other contributors whose comments really struck a chord.  One contributor suggested that whilst lawyers are very quick to pick up on new principles, they tended to want to use them straight away and where non technical skills were concerned, they were unlikely to be put into practice unless there was a real mindset that the firm was committed to change. Another suggested that those that really needed to adopt Susskind's suggestions probably would not until it was too late hoping perhaps that if they were of a certain age, they could get through to retirement without having to change their working practices.

In the area that I practised in throughout my career (claimant PI derived mainly from RTA) huge swathes of changes are about to land upon the profession. Yet I see a great deal of ostrich like behaviour - whole banks of paralegals covering several or more office floors, secretarial staff scurrying around all over the place, a limited use of technology ('we've got a website and PC's - what more do we need?') and partners uttering; 'Don't panic Captain Mainwaring' to anyone who dares question; 'What will happen come April 2013?'

I am sure that I do many firms a disservice, but similarly across a wider spectrum of firms other than the RTA/PI brigade, there seems to be the mentality that 'everything will be all right', that the solicitor is still, along with the mayor, the accountant, the doctor, and the bank manager (where are THEY now?), the respected pillar of every towns community and therefore for that reason the work will still flow and the public and business community will still pay THOSE fees.

I find myself with the good professor on this one. Fixed fee structures will become increasingly attractive and even the norm. Firms like the hugely innovative Riverview Law, based on the Wirral, are leading the way. Technology is available to help all firms achieve the aim of lowering fees - for small to medium firms as well as the big boys and girls. Putting together a carefully structured plan to introduce the right technology and the accompanying cost of the initial outlay, should not put off implementing what are likely to prove life saving changes.

I am similarly dismayed by how relatively few firms have a credible online presence or use social media as a major part of their marketing strategy. For smaller firms in particular this is a low cost means of getting themselves out to the public. Perhaps it is because many of them see Social Media as nothing but a talking shop for teenagers or a place for celebrities to stroke their egos - certainly not a place for any respectable member of the legal profession to be seen. Wake up people. I was recently back in my home town in the north for the funeral of my aunt and got into discussion with my cousin, whom I had not seen for many years. He has been a self employed electrician for many years and when I asked him how business was, he told me that it was steady, but that whilst he got a good deal of repeat business from the older generation, new business from the younger generation was pretty much non existent. When I went on to ask him if he had an online presence; website, Social Media etc, he confirmed what I had thought - that he hadn't. Nothing at all.

My work involves many hours of trawling through cyberspace looking at solicitors websites or in many cases seeking them out without success. Some that do have them, well, might as well have not bothered. There are some truly awful ones out there - in many cases, they probably would be better off not bothering at all.  As for Social Media or blogging - erm, what's that?

There are those too, who know in their heart of hearts that Social Media is the way forward. So they set up Facebook and Twitter pages and even a blog too. They make a couple of posts and then... nothing. The surge of enthusiasm that led them to set everything up, wanes as the realisation dawns that this is something that needs to be worked on on a regular basis. Other, 'more important' matters take over and hence there are endless pages on Twitter or Facebook that have not been used since 2010. What was that that Susskind said about countering the mindset that 'we think we can take on a new discipline over a weekend'?

I know only too well that running a small or medium sized practice is more than a full time occupation. Getting a meaningful days work done amongst all the other distractions can be difficult enough without thinking about marketing the practice or looking at ways that technology can help on an administrative level. I also know from experience, that for partners and  senior members of staff, delegating to others within the firm can  be a huge psychological barrier to overcome, let alone delegating to an outside agency. There is though help at hand. I am not the only former practitioner who now plies his trade in assisting firms in marketing or advising on the new technology available on an administrative level. There are those of us, who have been in those shoes, but who have now got the advantage of having that huge weight of running a legal practice removed from their shoulders and from whom the dark glasses have been removed..and as the advert says 'The future is bright, the future is....' but only to those who make up their minds that it will be and do something about it!





Thursday, 17 May 2012

Roberto Mancini Anyone?

I didn't really set up this blog as a blatant sales website, but as will by now be clear from this site, that as well as being a solicitor/legal marketer (or marketeer : still not sure which is the proper title), a seller of used and rare books and of cricket equipment, I am also an avid Manchester City supporter - the latter was not intended to creep into this blog, but having been mostly afflicted with this condition for over 40 odd years it is something to no longer hide under the proverbial bushel (not that I ever have in all honesty).

Some time ago, I bought the domain name www.robertomancini.co.uk . I'm not quite sure why nor have I decided how to use it, or now even whether I have the time to set something up on it. The great man himself has the .com variation and it has even crossed my mind whether to offer it to him if he wanted it. However alternatively if there are any good souls reading this who might find it an interesting proposition to take on, I would be more than happy to consider selling the domain name to a good home!

My contact details can be found on the blog.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Why I Had to Stop Running Away from Myself



                                                                            




I have a little book that I read every night. It is 'Night Light - A Book of Nighttime Meditations' by Amy E Dean. At the end of a usually hectic day, it just helps to centre me before putting my head down. There is a thought or meditation for each day of the year. So last night on May 15th it started with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson ;

We owe to our first journeys the discovery that place is nothing. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern Fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical fact that I fled from.


I wonder how many of us have done a 'geographical' at some point in our lives? I know that I have. Many years ago, over twenty in fact, I asked my senior partner if I could take a nine month sabbatical to travel round the world. The blessing that I got from him surprised me - but then again he was a maverick and probably wished that he could have done the same.


So I planned my trip and set off. I did want to see the world, but with the benefit of hindsight, I now realise that I was doing a 'geographical'. I was not comfortable in my own skin. Yes, I was doing well in my career - I was a reasonably successful solicitor, a partner in an up and coming practice, but I didn't really like myself too much. I drank too much, I was full of ego and although I liked to think of myself as 'nice old Carl' I didn't really treat people the way that I expected them to treat me. I was overly sensitive, selfish and yet a people pleaser at the same time.


So instead of looking inwards, I looked outwards - a spell away from where I lived and worked, a spell away from those who surrounded me in the town that I lived in and from those with whom I worked, would sort everything out. Of course, it didn't work. I did have an enjoyable time on many levels, but I came back the same me and before long, the same feelings of irritability, restlessness and discontent were upon me again.


What I didn't realise then, and what it was to take me a good deal longer to realise, was that I needed to change from within. I needed to start to change MY behaviours. I could not change other people, so why waste time trying to do so - besides who am I to even try and change someone else. No I had to stop running away and deal with the reasons why I wanted to run in the first place.


Once I started to do that and realise that I was merely a player in this great play of life and was not the director, things started to get better. To this day, and every day, I have to work on a daily basis to make myself more likeable to me, because if I don't like myself (and there is a difference between liking myself and being obsessed with myself) then how can I expect anyone else to think that I am an 'ok' person. I have to be less selfish and to think of others. Sometimes that just means listening to others and seeing that they have a view too! Often, it can be something as simple as making my wife a cup of tea or helping someone that I can see is struggling carrying their shopping. Likewise if I start to get angry or resentful towards someone because of something that they have said or done, I have to look at my part in the situation - besides whilst I am being resentful to someone else, they are just merrily getting on with their life. It's only me that gets hurt. If I have a problem, I have to work through it - discussing it with someone doesn't half help, instead of keeping it in my head alone. I have had to learn, and this has been hard, that I usually grow as a person far more from working my way through a problem or something that frightens me, and coming out the other side, than I do from some great thing that happens to me. Anyone can enjoy the good times.


The best thing that I have learned is that the world is perfect - it is just people that are not, myself included! So by not placing over reliance on people, places and things, I can be as happy and contented as I set my mind to be - sure shit will and does still happen. It's how I deal with it that is important. Strangely enough since I started to adopt this approach to life, things have just got better and better. So I will continue doing what I do on a daily basis - I am not seeking perfection, but merely progress and that suits me just fine.



Friday, 4 May 2012

Blue Moon Rising?


Ah, the Bank Holiday weekend is upon us and after a tough week in my working world of accident claims, time for some relaxation and putting the old feet up. Perhaps a bit of sport on the TV? Let's see what have we got? Saturday.. the FA Cup Final between Liverpool and Chelsea? Problem with that is that I can't stand either of them, so that would be a case of trying to decide which of them I want to lose most, and that's a tough call. No, that's not much fun. What about tomorrow, wait what's that, Sky Sports on Sunday - Newcastle United v Manchester City - oh no - I wanted some relaxation - I'd forgotten this was on.

I jest of course. As a lifelong City fan, how could I possibly have forgotten about this? I HAVE tried to forget about it ever since the majestic Vincent Kompany rose above Chris Smalling to power City past United in the derby match last Monday. Amidst all the euphoria of beating the old enemy on Monday night, I have to confess that I got carried away just a little with all the other City fans, before reality kicked in with the knowledge that we have to visit a resurgent Newcastle at the Mike Ashley Stadium on Sunday and WIN to further the dream of winning the Premier League title. The Geordie boys cracking victory at Chelsea on Wednesday whetted the appetite still further - or should I say made visits to the loo a half hourly necessity.

I was on this earth the last time City last won the top division in 1968, spookily by also going up to Newcastle and winning 4-3, whilst United lost to Sunderland on the same day. I don't remember much about it though. I have to confess, that whilst I had by then become interested in football, my Dad used to take me to see both City and United with the latter having the mercurial talents of Georgie Best and in those formative yearsI defy any youngster seeing the little magician in his pomp in  not to fall into a trance when the ball was at his feet.

But gradually City alone got into my pores, fuelled by my sister who from nowhere became a City fanatic. So the visits to OT were discontinued and a life of footballing highs, lows and more lows was born. But out of adversity came humour and following City has provided much gallows humour over the past 40 odd years that have followed. The banana's and the interminable time it took to blow the damn things up outside the away end at places like Leicester, Ipswich and dare I say it York City. "Blue Moon" - when the City fans first adopted this as their anthem, I remember being at Norwich away, with my late Mum and Dad on one of their by now rare visits to see the boys in blue. My Mum heard some City fans on the way to the ground whistling Blue Moon and thought they were Norwich fans pretending to be Canaries!

Many happy memories, friendships and laughs - enough to fill a book.

So to this weekend. I will get on with life today and then again tomorrow will doubtless wake from a fitful sleep with a churning stomach as I did last Monday. That morning I sent a text to my fellow Blue, Ged Shields, a VP at American giant Sherwin Williams, and someone with whom I have shared a blue friendship for over 30 years . I told him that at 7.30 am last Monday I was a physical and mental wreck thinking about the derby. He replied that he hadn't been able to sleep at all that night.

And what will happen tomorrow? Come on, this is City - absolutely anything is possible - and I mean anything.  For now I will try and calm my shattered nerves by telling myself it's been a great season whatever happens - and it has. In reality, though I desperately want it to turn out to have been a GREAT season. "Blue Moon you saw me standing alone..."

View From The Claimant Camp - Is There Anyone At Home?



                                                                            

I have to confess that I have developed the habit in recent times, upon waking and after making the life-saving cup of tea, of switching the laptop on and diving straight into Social Media. The other day I went straight to one of my favourite sites, the excellent ‘Legal Futures’ and there it was – an article with the headline ‘Government confirms U-turn on raising small claims limit for PI claims.’ My immediate thought was, ‘where is Maggie when U-turns are being talked about by a Tory government?’
My disposition quickly turned to anger. Just a few months ago the government said that the personal injury small-claims limit would remain at £1000. That was following the ‘Solving dispute in county courts’ consultation – consultation, that’s right. So what has changed in a few short months for the government to perform a U-turn?

Furthermore the article went on to state, that in the summer, the government ’will consult on this (increasing the limit) and on the feasibility of introducing independent medical panels to replace the current assessment of whiplash injuries either by GP’s or by doctors employed by medical reporting organisations’. The Moj’s  statement justifying  this, included the now well worn chestnut of ‘transparent and consistent approach to assessment and easier identification of exaggerated or fraudulent injuries.” Ah yes, “fraudulent claims/injuries”, “exaggerated” – add to that your own list - here are a few more to help you : “compensation culture”, “blame culture” “whiplash claims” (meaning any injury that has a compensatory value of less than £5000), “genuine victims”, “No Win – No Fee” (this has to be said in a certain manner to get the full effect ie the words have to be spat out). You get my drift – sound bites.

The government spokesman went on to provide further justification for these proposed measures;
“This is part of a package of reforms, including reforms ‘no win, no fee (spit)’ and referral fees. This will reduce costs for insurers (ah, right) – savings which we strongly encourage (note the use of very gentle word – ‘encourage’) them to pass onto consumers through cheaper premiums (breath not being held.)’

To his credit Law Society President Wotton did weigh in with the following;

“Fraud is entirely indefensible and the Law Society has made it clear time and again that it is happy to work with ministers and the insurance industry on tackling fraud head on – but we must ensure that proper recourse to justice remains available for those who have been injured by the negligence of  others. We doubt that simply giving insurers what they are asking for will reduce premiums.”

So there we have it. Referral fees and ATE are to go. The reducing of the fixed fee that solicitors can claim when they deal with claims under the portal is already underway and leaked emails tell us that the insurers likely starting point will be £150.00 – consultation with the claimant lobby will take place. So £150.00 is what it will be then gov?

Look, I have been involved in this “industry “(hate the term) since the early 1980’s. I worked for and then with, the pioneering Manchester solicitor, the sadly now deceased Keith Beardsell. I worked in his small office when regular visitors would be Chris Norman and David Garner, at that time computer  salesman (of ‘tardis’ sized computers)   and Accountant respectively. The former founded what became 3 Arrows Car Hire, the latter Forward Hire, MSL and now Financial & Legal. I saw the birth of credit hire and RTA claims, as entities in their own right. No the insurers didn’t like them. To claimants’, credit hire, credit repair and efficient solicitors were great services – to the insurers an unwelcome expense. 
                              
                                                                             

In the early to mid 1990’s I was involved at the “coal face” when the insurers and their advisers turned to the medieval concept of ‘Champerty & Maintenance’ to try and persuade the judiciary that credit hire agreements were invalid in law. I was at the House of Lords, when it ruled in the test cases before them, that such agreements were valid. Bloody nose for the insurers no 1.

I had my own practice by the time that the next real test went to the higher courts and the Consumer Credit Act cases of Dimond v Lovell et al were heard. Bloody nose for the insurers no. 2.

Throughout this period and indeed up until the present day, there have been steady streams of precedent cases on “rate of hire” and “length of hire.” That is entirely healthy – some have gone for claimants, some for the insurers.

However, overall throughout the last 25 plus years the claimant “industry” has survived the legal challenges to it. Perhaps that is because it has by and large been conducted along decent, legal lines and also because it provides a very good service to genuine claimants.

To my mind, this is the crux of where we are today. The insurers have failed to defeat what they see as an insidious “industry” per se, by using the courts of the land. So their tack now?  – political lobbying. Hit the governments of the day – of whatever political persuasion – right in the solar plexus – mention ‘vote winning’.

First of all though there had to be a period of building up the right atmosphere. So there was much talk using the sound bites mentioned before “compensation culture” “fraudulent claims” “whiplash injuries”, “NoWin, No Fee (I will have to clean the study floor of all this spittle) and of course “reducing insurance premiums”. We all want lower insurance premiums, particularly those of us with children of a certain age who are desperate to get their independence from “Mum and Dad’s taxi” (I wouldn’t mind some independence for Dad either) .

Then attack – and boy haven’t they done well these insurance boys (and girls). So, it seems we are now at the stage where it’s almost mission complete and the insurers have got their way. I’m not suggesting that they have done anything wrong either morally or legally and of course the claimant camp has a voice but either it has been ignored, or as I suspect, it has not made itself heard loudly or effectively enough. I wonder where all those fighters from the 90’s have disappeared to? Probably grown into middle age and beyond as I have (I will own up to the former, not yet the latter). Possibly in their place have come those who have become complacent and if they have woken up to what is happening, they have done so too late. So like the Wolverhampton Wanderers defence have done this season, they have stood dozing on the half way line whilst the opposition has scored goals at will.

Nor am I saying that there is no need for reform. I have never liked referral fees. As a solicitor with my own practice, starting up in 1994, I built my business up  by marketing very actively – getting my hands dirty by going out to see insurance, brokers, garages, legal expense insurers and gradually growing by providing a good, honest and efficient service and gaining a decent reputation. I resisted referral fees for as long as I possibly could, but when they became permitted in the late 90’s I had to give in eventually. I recall spending what for a small practice was a not inconsiderable sum on doing some cable TV advertising (hands up who remembers cable TV?). Our advert used to go out between the topless darts and the weather girl – or was it the topless weather girl and the darts? No wonder we got some strange enquiries! I recall at the time speaking to a good friend who acted as a mentor to me , and who was the Senior Partner of a large, successful RTA practice in the north. He asked me how much I had paid for the advertising and when I told him, he said to me that for that amount, he could buy around three hundred guaranteed fee bearing case leads. I had to take that on board and accept defeat. Ultimately the bulk of referral fees end up in the pockets of the insurance brokers, garages and recovery agents (not to mention LEI’s). They do not, in my experience though, add any cost whatsoever to the claim in so far as the paying insurer is concerned. They are swallowed up as a necessary evil by the claimants solicitor.

Like everyone else, I abhor fraudulent claims. I am aware that unfortunately the practice of sham accidents and false claimants has risen over the past 10 years. I had a few scenarios when in practice where I or my fee earners suspected dodgy dealings were afoot and we got shot of them and reported them very quickly. Even as recently as the past couple of months ago,  I came across an outfit advertising for PI’s to be referred to them for a payment of many hundreds of pounds on a social media site. I played along by making some enquiries of them, but when I broached the question of seeing their MoJ authorised business number, they quickly went silent on me. I reported them via the Claims Regulation website and asked to be kept informed – however that was about 4 weeks ago, and I have not heard a word from the authority. I’m not aware if the outfit in question were involved in fraudulent claims, but as far as I could see they were not authorised to carry out claims management services as they ought to be. I simply did what the vast majority of those in the claimant camp would do, and reported them.

It just frustrates and indeed angers me that by using soundbites, vote winning words and slogans, as the government and insurers do, all claimant solicitors, all claimants, all of the smaller injuries suffered by those claimants, all AMC’s, all credit hire companies and so on, are tarred with the same very unfair brush.
Neither do we hear a great deal about the inefficiencies and at times ( I am being kind using the words ‘at times’) incompetence of insurers, in the way they approach the handling of claims. A whole book could be written on my experiences of dealing with insurers, and the quality of staff that they have historically employed, but suffice it to say that were as much attention and time poured into them sharpening up their own act, as has been put into their cosying up to the governments of recent times, considerable savings could already have been made on insurance premiums.

Anyway, in 18 months time, please folks tell the world how much your insurance premiums have come down, once those nasty claimants and their even nastier advisors have been trampled underfoot. Or will it be the case that the insurers will have to find new scapegoats as to the reasons why surprise, surprise, they haven’t really come down at all?