Tom Jones says no one monitors the performance of liability lawyers they're free do to as they please and give us the bill
In Shakespeare's Henry VI, tax rebel Dick the Butcher famously demands: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." The lawyers he hated were unethical, corrupt and creaming cash off the most needy. There's a lot of sympathy for that view from liability insurers today.
Unethical practices have grown like mould on the edges of the Access to Justice reforms. In every dark corner, where the public's spotlight doesn't shine, legal excesses fester away.
These blights add to the liability insurers' costs, serve no useful purpose for the original claimant, and, when uncovered, make the legal profession and insurers look rotten.
Responsibility lies squarely at the insurance industry's door. Its failure to impose quality controls on lawyers, and its taste for referral fees, has encouraged cynicism and unscrupulous behaviour.
Lawyers on insurance company panels bid for and buy the claims they think they can make the most money from. These can be a few pounds a time but Insurance Times has reported fees as high as £1,000 per case. And the insurers will pay fees to secure the business too.
With so much money changing hands, the measure of success is too often no longer the claimant's best interest but whether the lawyers or insurers themselves can recover more than the fees they have paid, for the least amount of work.
That means claimants sometimes get less than their full entitlement because the vested interests see a quicker return on their investment through settling early.
You would think that the insurers would monitor this and ensure the lawyers did the best job they could. But they don't. They sell to the lawyers who offer the best rates. And once sold, the client is gone. There is no monitoring of success rates or of the levels of settlements. No checking with claimants that they were happy with the service they received. There is no comeback on the lawyers at all.
If the insurers didn't invent the phrase "compensation culture" they have polished and spun it, they have nurtured it and watched it mushroom. Insurers are responsible for its worst excesses. And insurers could clean up their act straight away.
At Thompsons we only work for trade unions. We do not "own" the cases, the unions do. We are always conscious that each union client wants the best for its members. That not only means that unions monitor individual cases, but they look at how much we have won for members on average, in different offices around the country, in each sector of business and for different types of cases.
If they suspect we are failing in any aspect of our work, they step on our toes and eyeball us, demanding better standards.
We are also scrutinised, openly and in public. I attend all the major trade union conferences. I will be challenged on individual cases by branch chairs and regional secretaries.
It is not uncommon for a feisty conference delegate to initiate a debate on the conference floor about one of our cases. We are the most publicly scrutinised legal firm in the country.
The insurance industry could be just as firm too, and as ethical with its lawyers as the unions are. The opportunity is there. IT
Tom Jones is director of policy and public affairs at Thompsons Solicitors