Short of banning all nut-related law firm names, it’s difficult to think how the government could have made life harder for Almond Solicitors.
The Manchester firm was founded in 2011 at pretty much the precise time the apparent personal injury gravy train hit the buffers.
Within a couple of years, no win, no fee agreements were redrawn, fixed fees were more than halved and the source of much of the work, referrals from claims managers, was cut off through a referral fee ban.
Just when firms had got back off the canvas, along came Osborne and Truss. Now Lidington deploys the upper-cut of the small claims limit rise.
For Almond Solicitors, it was enough for a knockout blow. It’s possible to imagine, too, that banks were hardly likely to be forthcoming to help a sector going through such constant change and where higher-profile firms had already burnt the fingers of a few lenders.
Almond will not be the last. Whilst the consolidation of the personal injury market has been talked about for years, we must surely now be on the brink of serious changes.
Small firms without the volume of work, and with the crutch of financial backing potentially kicked away, have few options once the next round of reforms are introduced.
The legacy of the glory years (circa 1999-2012) is a glut of practices that will surely dwindle in number.
The options? As ever, go niche or go big. Either carve out a specialism that will set you apart, or absorb the PI firm into a larger practice which can rely on other sources of income, as has happened to Almond.
Alternatively you can cull the expensive lawyers in your team, work on tiny margins and hope the case handlers on the ground can handle enough claims to turn a profit.
We’ve already seen this with the changes at Yorkshire firm Minster Law, which is heading towards a new role as a claims processing service rather than what we would regard as a traditional legal practice (and the outlook is perhaps brighter for it).
As for the likes of Almond, these are tough times. Expect more casualties in the next year or so.