Solicitors are getting a better deal on professional indemnity (PI) in the commercial market than they did with the Solicitors 'Indemnity Fund (SIF), a leading solicitors 'PI underwriter has said.

QBE underwriter Mark Casady said that a premium pot of £200m had resulted from this year 's premium increases, less than the estimated £250m practices paid into the SIF in its final year.

"Of this £200m,about a quarter is due to fee growth inflation," he said.

"Only about 20% to 30%can be attributed to rate increases, which are not out of place with other PI covers for people such as accountants, who are experiencing much greater rises."

Casady was responding to comments by brokers that the fraught period leading up the solicitors' PI renewals on 1 September could lead to a new SIF being established.

The original SIF was put into run-off in 2001.

This year's renewal period, in which many legal firms faced large premium increases and greater excesses, had been expected to result in greater use of the Law Society 's Assigned Risks Pool, which exists for firms unable to find cover else where.

Casady said any rise in the number of firms using the pool was a reflection of solicitors' inability to demonstrate sound risk management, not a failure of the insurance market.

He said the commercial insurance market acted as a mechanism to "weed out "firms that posed poor risks.

"The Law Society needs to grasp the nettle and address the problems of firms who are either unwilling or unable to improve their performance and the way they run their businesses," he said. "There needs to be a body, like the Health and Safety Executive, which has disciplinary powers."

However, Aon Professional Risks executive director Elizabeth Mullins estimated a total premium pot of £210m for the commercial market this year whereas the pot for the SIF in its last year was only £220m.

Mullins, the former managing director of the SIF, said there was unlikely to be a huge influx into the Law Society's pool.

She agreed that the difficult renewal period had been a "real learning experience " for solicitors, who would take more action to control their claims and introduce a risk management culture in time for the 2003 renewals.

Mullins also suggested the introduction of more than one renewal date, which would allow brokers to "better manage the expectation of our clients and test the sustainability of increases as they come through".