A leading personal injury lawyer has urged colleagues to fight back against government reform proposals – and persuade the public to join in.

Neil Sugarman (pictured), incoming president of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, told the association's annual conference that members need to be better at communicating their message to the wider public.

Sugarman, managing partner of Manchester firm GLP Solicitors, said lawyers should offer to give talks to doctors about the rehabilitation code and speak with charities and Citizens Advice bureaux, as well as informing local media about successful cases.

Personal injury lawyers, he said, should show they are there ‘to make a difference to injured people rather than just chase the money’.

Sugarman told delegates: ‘Get fired up and when you leave this conference, go back to your offices determined that you are going to do whatever you can personally to win back some hearts and minds of the doubters and the mud-slingers.

‘It’s all part of winning back public confidence and trust in what we do and showing why we are needed and what will be lost if we are no longer around to do this work.’

Earlier, justice minister Lord Faulks indicated the government was still minded to scrap general damages for minor soft-tissue injuries and increase the small claims limit next year.

Sugarman suggested the sector is now ‘on the verge of the greatest of the challenges that we, and more importantly, innocent, people have faced to their rights and entitlements for many a long day’.

Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon, speaking at the APIL conference, said reforms to the personal injury sector implemented in 2013 need more time to be analysed before more changes are made.

The Society, she added, would respond ‘robustly’ to the forthcoming consultation on further PI reforms.

Dixon added: ‘We are gravely concerned about how minor soft-tissue injuries will be defined and it is simply wrong, in our view, that people who suffer what could be injuries which impact on their lives through no fault of their own, are unable to recover compensation.

‘The government seemingly believes that plans to raise the small claims limit for personal injury claims to £5,000 and abandon general damages for “minor” whiplash injuries will help stop fraudulent claims. We disagree.’

But David Williams, managing director of underwriting at insurance giant AXA, said the claimant sector had to temper its expectations about what lobbying efforts can achieve.

Williams said the ‘boat has sailed’ on the small claims limit, but conceded it may be ‘mission impossible’ to define a soft-tissue injury and decide what level of injury can qualify for general damages.