To be honest, I knew I was asking for trouble by picking up the phone at teatime. The only calls that come through on that particular landline are from investment advisers or chaps asking for my passwords so they can fix my IT. Sure enough, when I picked up the phone at 6.30pm last Wednesday there was the familiar few seconds of crackly silence and a subcontinent-accented voice checking he was indeed speaking to ‘Mr Michael’.
The caller claimed to represent ‘the accident helpline’ and asked if I’d had a road accident recently. Truthfully, I said yes (bumps and scrapes are a weekly occurrence in North London) and whether I’d suffered injuries. Again truthfully I said I had a headache and a stiff neck. Pressed for details, I told my first lie, inventing a date and a location at which a lorry had run in to the back of me.
I was then passed to a supervisor. I told him my registration number, which he correctly identified it from ‘the database’ as a grey Renault. I was unable to help him with the lorry, but lied that I had the details written down. I was told a solicitor would be in touch, so I gave them my mobile number.
The 0845 calls started at 10am the following morning. After the third, I called back and spoke to a firm identifying itself as Versus Law, which seemed to have a file on me. A friendly lady named Gemma said the details of my case had been passed on by a ‘Sky Nest’. I identified myself as the news editor of Law Society Gazette and raised the issue of cold calling. She assured me that Versus would never do such a thing and that if a referral company had cold called, the firm didn’t know anything about it. ‘We’re just picking up the claim.’
Gemma offered to refer me to her boss. I gave her my office telephone number and said I would be delighted to speak further. Which is where the matter stands.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority says that ‘solicitors cannot pay for referrals from introducers who obtain business in ways that would breach our rules if done by someone we regulate, for example cold calling by telephone or in person’. I have contemporaneous shorthand notes of the conversations should anyone wish to take the matter further.
I’ve no doubt that Versus Law will refuse to pay for any referral it discovers was generated through cold calling. Perhaps if enough firms take a robust attitude, my interlocutors in India will find other ways to make a living. But the experience leaves a nasty taste. And not just from the sausage casserole I was cooking when the phone rang.
Michael Cross is Gazette news editor
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