It was interesting to see Kathryn Mortimer’s remarks defending solicitor performance (Letters, 10 May) which probably reflect the position and experience of many legal expense insurers.
The concept of solicitors’ panels makes commercial sense for the insurer and ought also help to secure delivery of an appropriate level of service to its policyholders who make a claim. After all, both parties have a shared shared interest in securing a successful outcome.
It is however probably apposite to qualify any suggestion that an insurer should routinely appoint a firm from its panel.
First, an insurer will generally tailor its panel to the types of incident it usually insures, but there will be occasions when an unusual claim occurs which requires specialist knowledge which cannot be offered by a panel firm.
In this case the insurer would be prudent to consider deviating from its normal policy.
Similarly, for particular types of claim at least, panels should not be too geograph-ically sparse. With technology that is now available, the location of the lawyer should perhaps be a diminishing consideration.
At Arag, we would still certainly not advocate sending all our claimants to one of two law firms on the panel selected solely for the benefit of the insurer at the inconvenience of the policyholder. Furthermore, there may be occasions when the non-panel solicitor has an in-depth knowledge of the claim in question, and it may therefore be appropriate to consider their appointment, particularly if the matter is likely to be approaching settlement.
To do otherwise would involve the proverbial reinventing of the wheel with possibly greater expense to the insurer and inconvenience to the policyholder.
I suggest that the Financial Ombudsman Service would be highly likely to find against any member when faced with a case where the insurer did not take these points into consideration.
Finally, central to the benefit of the policyholder and also to demonstrate the integrity and impartiality of the legal expense insurer, there is a need to participate in an appropriate and transparent selection process when deciding which firms comprise its panel.
This applies of course to solicitors’ panels but does not end there, and extends to any other significant supplier of services that the insurer employs .
Claims manager, Arag Legal Services