RPC is reported in a Gazette online article from 1 November (‘Legal cannibals: law firms fuelling rise in negligence claims’) as saying that there is an increase in claims against solicitors caused by aggressive advertising campaigns.

In his Civil Courts Structure Review, Lord Justice Briggs said: ‘This is not a type of claim where there is currently a satisfactory level of access to justice. Claimants receive none of the benefits of QOCS and the damages uplift, but they are nonetheless barred by the Jackson reforms from the advantages of ATE premium and large success fee recovery.’

Extreme positions and sensationalised headlines can obscure what is nothing more than a well-managed system in England and Wales for dealing with disputes arising from professional negligence and liability. There are more than 5,000 solicitors listed on the Law Society ‘Find a Solicitor’ website who ticked the box to say that they specialise in professional negligence claims.

These solicitors are generally divided into two camps: those who act for professional indemnity insurers and professionals as defendants (‘panel firms’); and those who act for claimants. The Professional Negligence Lawyers Association website contains the only list of lawyers willing to act for claimants.

It is an unusual and possibly emotive feature that the work involves dealing with negligence by solicitors and barristers. While most lawyers are working hard in fear of making any mistakes, lawyers in this area of practice deal with all sorts of mistakes made by members of the professions.

It is an unsurprising fact of life that professionals make mistakes. These vary from the trivial, such as typographical errors, to cynical criminal dishonesty. Not all such mistakes give rise to a claim against the professional concerned. There are highly developed legal principles to work out not only whether there is liability, but also whether the mistake concerned caused financial loss – and if so how much is recoverable.

To characterise claimant lawyers as ‘legal cannibals’ is as absurd as saying that all mistakes by professionals are criminal acts. Most of the time cases fall somewhere in the large grey areas in between. Striking the balance between the ability of claimants to fund strong claims and professionals who feel deluged by unmeritorious claims is the challenge we face.

Katy Manley, president, Professional Negligence Lawyers Association