If you’ve recently had an accident and currently looking for information on what to do or who to instruct, you’ve probably realized that there’s a bewildering amount of choice.
So where does one start and how does one make a decision as to who to instruct when faced with so much choice?
Gone are the days when you simply picked up the Yellow Pages or instructed your local solicitor. The fact is that we live in a far more complex legal world and in response to this, specialist law firms have evolved to deal with the ever-increasing legally complex cases. As a result, the smaller, more general high street law practices have gradually either been absorbed by larger law firms or simply closed shop, as it becomes increasingly difficult to provide the breadth of legal services that today’s clients need.
If you’ve been in an accident and want to claim compensation for injury, loss and or damage, you have 4 main choices, each of which I address below:
1. The DIY approach where you negotiate directly with the third-party insurer.
2. You leave it to your own insurer to deal with claiming compensation for loss, damage and personal injury.
3. You use the services of a claims management company, or
4. You choose to go directly to a firm of solicitors.
With so much choice, inevitably it’s become more difficult to make a decision as to the best route to take.
Dealing Directly With the third-party Insurer
Whilst, the guilty party’s insurer will encourage you to deal directly with them, for obvious reasons, there is very good reason why it’s never advisable to deal directly with a third-party insurer. However, if you didn’t suffer any injuries and you’re confident in your ability to claim all your losses and damage yourself, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t.
However, if the accident involves making some kind of injury claim, you need to be a lot more clued up on your legal right, for once you agree settlement terms you won’t be entitled to later reopen the deal and claim more compensation.
It’s therefore imperative that you receive expert legal advice. A solicitor will ensure that you get properly examined by a specialist consultant who prepares a medico legal report on your injuries. This is a very important aspect of personal injury claims. This report assists your solicitor in ascertaining whether or not you have any other injuries or medical conditions other than the obvious and gives an opinion on the likely duration for full recovery.
You need to understand that it’s not uncommon in accident cases for a victim to display relatively minor injuries, but on expert medical examination to discover that the condition is more serious and longer term than perhaps was originally contemplated.
Having a solicitor act for you in the negotiations also has the added benefit of providing you with a kind of backup insurance policy. A solicitor is there to advise you on the best course of action and to negotiate the best terms reasonably possible. If that advice is defective or negligent, you may be entitled to sue your solicitor to recover any loss sustained as a result of that negligent advice.
Leave It to Your Insurance Company to Deal With the Case
This will normally be available to you if you have legal expenses cover as part of your policy, which is normally added to most insurance policies free of charge.
All Insurance companies have their own select panel of solicitors to whom they refer cases. They will have panel solicitors to defend cases and also panel solicitors who they instruct to represent victims of accidents.
It’s common practice for panel solicitors to pay insurance companies a fairly substantial fee for referring them cases. Personally, I don’t like the practice. I don’t believe solicitors can be truly independent and unbiased when there’s a financial relationship between the parties. Let’s not forgot that the panel solicitor instructed has to negotiate with the third-party insurer and oftentimes this may include having to take court action if they cannot reach mutually agreeable terms of settlement.
Another thing is that the insurance industry is a rather small market that’s dominated by a few big players. In other words it’s a very incestuous business, as it’s not uncommon for the insurer that is instructing the panel solicitor to also be the insurance company in the negotiations on behalf of the driver at fault. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sit comfortably with me.
Another point to bear in mind is that you don’t get any choice over which firm of solicitors the insurance company ultimately instructs on your behalf.
Now, here’s my point. Not all solicitors are suitably experienced to deal with all types of accident claims. As I mentioned above, specialist law practices have evolved for the specific reason that in order to best serve clients with particular legal problems they need to develop a very specialized understanding of the law.
Can you be sure that you’re receiving the best legal advice and representation for your accident claim, when the panel solicitors that are acting for you is most likely bulk buying cases from insurance companies.
In other words, it’s a bit of a lottery whether you end up with a good solicitor or not for your type of claim.
Claims Management Services
Claims management companies are the middle men that came onto the scene when the ban on referral fees was lifted in 2004.
As with insurance companies, claims management companies form working relationships with a handful of solicitors firms to whom they refer cases, sometimes for a substantial fee. You will have no say or control over which firm of solicitors they appoint on your behalf. So once again it’s a matter of chance whether you get good legal representation or not.
Like insurance companies, claims management companies make their money by getting your details and passing it on to their panel solicitors for a fee, which reportedly can be as high as £1000. Some claims management companies will charge you directly for their services if your claim is successful. Therefore, check their terms and conditions carefully before you commit to a claims management service.
The problem with claims management referrals as I see it, is that they add an additional cost in the legal process of recovering compensation for accidents, but in the process have added little or no value to the handling of your claim i.e they are simply collecting accident cases and passing it onto a solicitor for a fee.
Therefore, the referral fee represents an additional fixed expense in the recovery of compensation for you, the injured party. So even before the solicitor has done any work to recover compensation for you, it has already cost the solicitor quite a lot of money.
The point I’m making in this. Despite what the public thinks, solicitors firms do tend to have very high overheads – expensive premises, expensive indemnity insurance and equipment and highly qualified lawyers and assistants that are expensive to employ.
For your average case, having to pay a referral fees means that the law firm instructed will need to cut costs else where in the claims process to maintain profitability. This is very likely to result in the client getting a less personalized service or even a poorer service since it will almost certainly mean that the solicitor handling your case won’t be able to spend as much time on your case as it may deserve. A modern legal development that I’m now seeing much more often is the establishment of very large accident claims departments. Often these firms will be on several insurance company’ panel of solicitors, who receiving a very large volume of cases on a referral basis. This is what I’d describe as the commoditization of the accident claims. A bit like wholesale retailers.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with this set up, it is something that you should be aware of especially if you would prefer to have a much more personalized and professional service.
The pressure to commoditize the injury claims process, with an emphasis on employing a lot of unqualified and relatively inexperienced staff to undertake much of the work, is unfortunately an inevitable phase in the drive to reduce costs and maintain market share.
Instruct a Firm of Solicitors Directly
This last option is to deal directly with a firm of solicitors.
What’s important here is for you to select a firm that specializes in the area of law that you need help with. So, if you’ve had a motorbike accident, instruct a firm that deals specifically with motorbike accidents. If it’s a car accident claim, then deal with solicitors that specialise in that kind of work. If the injury is due to medical negligence, then make sure that the firm you instruct has a strong work emphasis in this area of law. Or if it’s an industrial disease claim, then it’s important that you instruct a firm of solicitors that have experience in this field of law.
You may also want to consider whether to instruct a large or a small to medium size law firm. In my experience, I’ve always found smaller to medium size businesses, not just in the legal market but generally across the board, tend to have a more personalised service.
One of my biggest criticism with large corporate organisations is that many have become so large that they lose that personal connection with the customer. This can be very frustrating especially if the service doesn’t meet with your expectations.
In an ideal world, we all want to be treated as if we were the only customer and whilst that is not possible in practice smaller niche practices do provide the next best thing. We also prefer to deal with people we like. Sometimes, I feel that large corporate organisations fail to understand this basic concept with their conveyer-belt style of operating.
So How Do You Choose the Right Firm of Solicitor?
Instinctively you might think, go with a legal comparison site. But my advise is not to waste your time. Many comparison websites are designed to display results based on price. And here’s the problem with this approach.
Price is irrelevant.
You don’t want to be searching for the cheapest provider because what you need a solicitor who is an expert in the field and who will provide you with the best service possible.
Besides, if most accident claims solicitors are offering you a “non win no fee” deal on costs, why on earth would you want to go to a legal comparison website to choose a low-cost law firm?
Unfortunately, the only real way to find a good firm of solicitors with the requisite expertise and specialism is to do your homework and start looking locally or on the internet. Whilst this may sound like a lot of hard work, I’m confident that it will be well worth it in the long run.
If you’re looking for a more personalised specialist service, try to seek out a firm of solicitors that don’t work with insurance companies and who don’t buy in bulk leads from claims management companies.
I refer to these law firms that rely on personal recommendations and market reputation, as independent practices. In other words, they don’t have any financial connection with insurance companies or claims companies, and they’re more likely to be smaller niche practices that offer a more personalised service to clients.