Monday, 26 November 2012

Your Prison Cell Awaits....


Occasionally, at the end of a criminal trial, when a prison sentence has been handed down, the Judge will defer the start of the sentence for a couple of weeks to allow the Defendant to get his personal  affairs in order. I remember that happening to a solicitors clerk in a practice not far from where I was brought up in the North West of England who along with others in the practice had been sentenced to a couple of years for 'Green Form' fraud. I recall thinking how awful that must be - being allowed to walk out of the court room to go home, knowing that you had a 2 year sentence waiting to start in 2 weeks time.

It's been a similar situation for RTA lawyers over the past however many months. They have known that a prison sentence awaits them on April 1 2013, but as it all still seemed a life time away, things carried on as normal. Even when it became certain that referral fees were going to be banned - bluster and bravado ( "oh it will be business as usual, ha ha.") More recently the laugh has become a nervous one and then on Monday 19th November, the laughter stopped altogether -the fixed fee under the Portal slashed from £1200.00 to £500.00 (unless the Law Society who are 'raising concerns' can weave some magic - ok, you can all start sniggering again).

Why there isn't even enough left in the pot to pay a dodgy referral fee!

As if that wasn't bad enough, those who suddenly thought that overnight they could become super EL/PL lawyers, woke up to find that that was being dragged into the whole sorry scheme too, albeit at slightly better rates (but not significant enough to get the cheque book out for a down payment on that new Porsche).

It's been interesting, hearing all the news on the grapevine about solicitors and CMC's who have supposedly found unique ways around the referral fee ban with opinions from Rumpole QC confirming that they have a cast iron scheme. Pray, do tell, so we can all have a good laugh. Goodness knows we need one. In any event could Counsel please advise which 'pot of gold' the cast iron 'referral fee by any other name' is going to come from?

I may be mad, but I still believe that this is a time of opportunity for some and by that I don't just mean for the big boys and girls. Firms will have to re-structure, no doubt about that. There will be casualties. CMC's who have nothing to offer other than buying in and selling on claims will disappear, go into PPI or become debt management companies. CMC's that are in reality old fashioned Credit Hire companies by any other name, will still be able to make a living from providing hire facilities (yes I know that there is the OFT thing hovering around, but let's deal with that as/if/when it comes around - we've got enough to deal with at the moment). Solicitors, cosy up to them and network with others. There is nothing wrong with you working in an informal relationship as long as you don't share fees and don't pay referral fees and maintain a professional approach, is there? The old fashioned 'good service' quality might come to the fore in terms of selling yourselves (not literally).

...and start marketing like you never have before - network - think outside the box. On the technical side of things there are legitimate ways to get matters out of the Portal on many claims. Be sharper than the opposition and competitors in the handling of your claims. Do you have a lot of claims that include credit hire charges as part of the Special Damages claim? Are you still allowing most of those claims to stay in the Portal? If so why?

So, PI solicitors, the future is difficult but for those prepared to roll their sleeves up, there is a future. RTA/PI lawyers have proved in the past they are a resilient lot. Now is the time to show that quality again.

If you need some help not just with marketing your firm but with advice on re-structuring and how to move forward in 2013 and beyond please feel free to email me at Unlike many legal marketing experts, I have the experience not only of 28 years specialising in RTA/PI work, but of having built up my own practice from scratch and turning it into a successful and thriving business. I know how difficult it is sometimes to see the wood from the trees when you are running a practice and I now have the benefit of having had the blinkers taken from me, having sold my practice some years ago.

That prison cell does not have to have your name on it.....

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Yawn Yawn. Jackson and all that...

I've been a little quiet recently in terms of tweeting and blogging on LASPO, Jackson and all that. To be honest I am a bit weary of it all...all the speculation and jaw jawing, of listening to possible ways of getting round the ban (not supposed to be looking at ways of doing that are we; thought we were just meant to comply?). Of course we all still await the definitive definition from the SRA as to what consitutes a 'referral fee'.

A formal consultation process conducted by the SRA started on the 23rd October and will end on the 18th December. There is to be an 'SRA Referrals Symposium' (to be held at the Royal Albert Hall?). Code changes are to be approved by the SRA Board on the 23rd January 2013, changes to the Regulatory Framework will be approved by the LSB mid February 2012, final version published 'early March 2013' and Implementation of the ban - April 2013.

Reading about the Consultation on the SRA website is making my contact lensed eyes water, so you can check it out for yourselves at if you like. It might make your eyes water too.

I hear it being said by many, and indeed to avoid being accused of hypocrisy, I have also sounded off to this effect previously, 'how can we possibly plan for the future when nothing is written in stone?'. I still believe that to be true for instance in the case, for example of what the fixed fee under the RTA portal will come down to  (I believe that at the recent MASS conference many delegates were saying that they believed that the fee will not come down to the oft quoted figure of £400, but is more likely to be fixed at double that).

However, the one thing that is certain is that referral fees will be banned, that is that LASPO 2012 as implemented in April 2013 will prohibit the 'payment and receipt of referral fees in personal injury cases'. I do not see that the SRA is going to provide much more in the way of a deeper definition. Indeed it has already said that it does not intend to provide a blue print for firms. It will rely on self-regulation to a great extent and to my mind it will boil down to this - at the moment Mr/Mrs/Ms RTA/PI Solicitor you receive quite a bit/some/an awful lot of your work by paying a referral fee to a CMC/Insurance broker or to some other organisation to receive a personal injury claim - ie you pay £X for a PI or you pay £XXX to receive 20 claims a month or whatever. After the first of April that will not be allowed and you can dress it up in fancy ways, but it will still be banned, and you know that it will be banned, so don't do it. If you do do it, well first of all, remember that you are under a duty to self report breaches of the SRA Code of Conduct. If you don't report yourselves, you might get away with it, or we might catch you - that is a risk that you may or may not wish to take. However you know the Rules and so if you do decide to be naughty, well you will be looking over your shoulder for the rest of your days (or until the ban is relaxed/collapses in farcical fashion or is otherwise done away with - all of which are possible, but not certain). You can wave leading Counsels opinion on some brilliant new scheme that you have come up with as a way of getting round the ban, at us, but ultimately if it involves making a payment for a PI claim, it is banned. End of.

So there you have it. What you can do is go out and market properly and attract clients that way, but you'd better get going seriously if you haven't started already - and don't expect those 100 guaranteed new cases per month that you are getting at the moment by paying XYZ CMC Ltd £75,000 a month - no, no, no, that is not going to happen, certainly not in the near term (or to be honest in the long term). Alternatively you can form an ABS - but that is a separate issue altogether and provides enough material for 20 more blogs.

Anyway, I have just heard the theme tune to 'I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here' chiming up, so time to go and watch Nadine Dorries getting bitten by some more rats or submerged in a bath of maggots. Maybe ITV could try an alternative theme "I'm a PI Claimant Solicitor - Get Me Out of Here." At £40,000's worth of appearance money - now, there's a thought. That would buy an awful lot of claims (until 1st April 2013)!

As ever all of these off the wall views are my own in their entirety.