Tom Jones says ‘general practitioner’ solicitors should stop meddling in personal injury claims

Too many solicitors see personal injury compensation claims as a cash cow. Compared with the low fees they can charge for house conveyancing, writing wills or other day-to-day work, the average high street solicitor gets pound signs in his eyes if someone walks in off the street with a personal injury claim.

The trouble is, these solicitors are such novices at personal injury claims that they end up costing both their client and the defendant’s insurer a small fortune.

General solicitors (I call them GP solicitors), should be barred from taking personal injury claims, instead passing them on to specialist firms.

Think of solicitors as the medical profession. In the dark ages, the local doctor would do everything from delivering babies to amputation and to tending the terminally ill. The great strides in medicine happened when different doctors specialised, learning more about a niche subject than any doctors before them.

So now, a GP will identify a problem and then refer patients on. It may be a child needing an ear, nose and throat expert to check their tonsils, a mum-to-be visiting the obstetrics department, or a high blood pressure sufferer seeking the cardiac consultant.

The GP’s role is to treat minor illnesses and to know when to refer patients on to the now huge array of medical specialists.

The law should work in the same way. Partly it does already. There are specialist law firms. City takeovers require expert legal advice and only a select band of firms can provide it. If you work in marine or mining, certain legal names will crop up frequently.

Clinical negligence claims handling is limited to a strictly controlled group. In fact, there are no major law firms who call themselves jacks of all trades. Yet that is just what these high street solicitors pretend to be.

“GP solicitors scrabble around to establish a case rather than instinctively knowing whether there is one and then getting on with it if there is

Specialist personal injury solicitors, such as Thompsons, know exactly the information required to establish the size of a claim. We have years of experience negotiating settlements, so we know the realistic, achievable compensation.

Yes delay happens (but when it does we have our trade union clients on our back) but we know that nothing is gained by us or most importantly our clients, by mucking around.

GP solicitors, on the other hand, too often simply don’t have the experience or the systems to progress cases quickly. They scrabble around to establish a case rather than instinctively knowing whether there is one and then getting on with it if there is.

The GP solicitors end up putting in inflated damages claims based on unjustifiable expectations – raising those of their claimant too – and then, because they fail to settle quickly when they get an offer, their costs are inevitably that much greater too.

The Asociation of Personal Injury Lawyers tries its best to promote best practice, but its hands are tied by representing claimant and defendant law firms.

Insurers and truly claimant-only law firms would do well to join forces and end the practice of GP solicitors meddling in personal injury claims. Unless it suits insurers to have GP solicitors in order to provide an excuse to complain about all lawyers.

Tom Jones is director of policy and public affairs at Thompsons Solicitors