Manchester Law Society – Personal Injury Conference 2013

Manchester Law Society – Personal Injury Conference 2013

On May 21st the Manchester Law Society (MLS) held their Annual Personal Injury Conference. Over a hundred delegates from the regions law firms attended to give their views and listen to speeches from a wide variety of key speakers.

Sucheet Amin; President of the MLS opened the conference which was chaired by Roberts Jackson Director and Council member Karen Jackson.  In keeping with the concept of the conference Karen began by highlighting that there had been an 11% decrease in whiplash claims since the implementation of the April reforms  and that there were now 144 Alternative Business Structures already approved by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

This was appropriately followed by an insightful speech by the Chairman of the Motor Accidents Solicitors Society (MASS), Craig Budsworth. In his discussion about “The future of RTA” he stated that insurance companies should pass the savings they stand to gain from the decline in RTA claims to their clients by lowering premiums. He said that it was now the duty of all good Solicitors to keep this discussion in the national press so that Insurers were encouraged to pass on savings to premium holders. He confirmed that the Transport Select Committee had recently published a statement suggesting that they were reviewing the effect of the Apil reforms on insurance premiums. Craig further went on to highlight that consumers who purchase insurance could be confused by changes and could purchase the same policy twice unnecessarily due to their lack of understanding of the need for Before the Event Insurance.  He encouraged PI lawyers to keep up the fight and to continue to highlight relevant issues. Craig Budsworth’s speech lit up the twitter feeds with comments like “Bit of a call to arms by Craig Budsworth @manlawsoc PI conference #keepfighting” posted by @LawshareJMW.

Neil Kinsella, Chief Executive at Slater Gordon (UK) LLP provided his insight into how to maintain a successful practice in this current climate. Taking the opportunity to remind those in attendance that “setting up an ABS is not a strategy but rather the means behind a strategy”. Neil explained foresight and an ability to manage capital efficiently would enable healthy returns which would ultimately attract the right investors. He emphasised that “the world is changing; lots of people are coming into the profession holding a different view. Modern equity is not so much about taking equity in a partnership or even in an LLP. Employee ownership plans for creating share ownership within the business and is an opportunity for getting people into equity a lot sooner than they might otherwise have done if they were waiting for a full equity partnership”.  Martin Coyle of Ralli Solicitors posted the following in response to Mr Kinsella’s talk “Neil Kinsella gave an empirical view of the future strategies required for PI firms. A focused and driven presentation.”

Back by popular demand, Kerry Underwood urged firms in his speech to push private referrals and encourage loyalty from their clients. He explained that personal injury costs had become detached from other areas of law. He advised that education of staff was the key.

This was followed by a heated panel question and answer session inciting debates about the future of PI, fixed fees, ABS’s and surviving in the post Jackson era. The panel consisted of, Neil Kinsella, Kerry Underwood, Charles Layfield – Partner, Pannone LLP, Andrew Twambley – Partner, Amelans Solicitors, Owner of injurylawyers4u and finally Roger Coleman – Senior Partner, Colemans – Ctts LLP. As expected there were some conflicting opinions amongst some of the panel members, which encouraged further questions from all who were attending.

Two of the most anticipated speakers of the day were without a doubt Mrs Justice Swift and Director of Policy and Strategy, SRA, Agnieszka Scott. Mrs Justice Swift discussed the importance of cost budgeting and how judiciary’s focus would now be on proportionality when considering parties’ cost budgets. Her inspired speech which led delegates through her past experiences at the bar and then to the judiciary, showed just how far the legal landscape had changed when she addressed the issue of cost budgeting and explained that the Judiciaries focus when assessing cost budgets.  Giving an invaluable insight into the new rule, she explained that the focus of the Judiciary when assessing cost budgets would be that of proportionality and that whilst they cannot approve costs accumulated prior to case management conferences, judges can comment on and take into account the reasonableness and proportionality of these past costs when considering costs budgets. She further encouraged parties to consider the need for ADR and that the Judiciary would be proactively promoting ADR where appropriate.  Her final words were to warn the delegates that the Judiciary are also now taking a firmer approach when it comes to compliance.

Agnieszka Scott opened the eyes and ears of delegates in the room when taking to the stage with her speech about the importance of self-regulation and the dangers of extensive referral fees disguised as marketing fees. She clarified misconceptions that the SRA would be approving marketing fees which were disproportionate and brought home the dangers of classifying referral fees as marketing fees when  in essence they may not be. Miss Scott added “a lot of people see ABS as a panacea to the problem of the ban and how to get around it, it is not that simple. You need to think very carefully about the structure, independence and what exactly is and isn’t part of the ABS”. She further hinted that the SRA would be speaking to those firms whose personal injury department makes up more than half of their practice to ensure compliance with the referral fee ban.  During the second panel question and answering session Andrew Twambley, Senior Partner of Amelans Solicitors, enquired with Miss Scott what the SRA’s stance was on inducements, to which Miss Scott responded that whilst the SRA would like to carefully consider inducements and do something about it “the risks posed is not high enough to justify the resources”.

Bridget Prentice – Government Whip 2003-2005 and Government Minister in the Ministry of Justice 2005-2010, kindly attended the conference and gave a talk on “The process of the legal services act and the vertical extension of the portal”. She commenced her speech by stating “I do not believe that we have a compensation culture” and followed this by taking the delegates through the extensive journey that the reforms had been through prior to the implementation of LASPO. She finished her talk with an inspirational Chinese proverb “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls, others build windmills”, and stated that there was still room for debate.

The final key speaker of the day was Daniel Frieze, Counsel of St John’s Buildings. This was accompanied by some extensive and very informative lecture notes that discussed cost budgeting.

It goes without saying that the whole day was a huge success and a massive achievement for the Manchester Law Society and all involved. The efforts of all on the panel were identified by many and twitter was very active with comments about the day itself.  Roberts Jackson Solicitors were extremely proud to work closely with the MLS to make this happen.

RJ Director, Karen Jackson has commented with the following:

“The MLS conference was all about clarity and shedding light on many of the recent changes to the legal landscape. Change is upon us and as lawyers we need to adapt to the things we cannot change and continue to liaise and educate those in power regarding future proposals.

This week we had a line-up of first class speakers including a senior member of the judiciary and a former MP, Director of Policy of the SRA and respected key players within the UK legal sector. I was very proud to be asked to chair the conference for the second year running and it once again proved to be a considerable success.

The Manchester Law Society continues to strive to educate and assist it’s members and those within the legal sector both in Manchester and its surrounding areas. Every conference that we do we strive to be better and listen to what our members want and I think we did that this week”

Since the event, the SRA have published a statement to address those concerns raised at the conference which only goes to show the impact that your law society can have on policy and change. More information about referral fee ban provided by the SRA can be found here