An independent survey commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority suggests the personal injury market is generally working well, a finding that will be seized upon by opponents of further root-and-branch reform.
Conducted by independent consultant ICF Consulting, the survey suggests the sector is adapting positively following the reforms set in train by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).
The study was based on an online survey of law firms and interviews with 15 'non-solicitor stakeholders'.
The findings suggest that consumers are still benefiting from high levels of access to services and there is a perception that fewer frivolous claims are being made.
Only 12% of respondents believed that the practice of solicitors accepting and progressing frivolous cases was prevalent in the market.
Most feel the relationship between solicitors' firms, insurers and medical reporting organisations has improved since the introduction of MedCo, the independent system for sourcing medical reports on soft-tissue injury.
However, the research highlighted concerns over the lack of knowledge within firms seeking to move away from road traffic accident claims and diversify into other PI areas such as noise-induced hearing loss, occupational disease and catastrophic injury.
Nearly a third of solicitor respondents indicated that their firms will be diversifying in the PI market over the next two years.
Specific examples of poor solicitor competence included poor case selection and triage, and inadequate staff supervision.
Judges commented on the ‘sometimes poor’ quality of evidence. They suspected that some work was undertaken by a poorly trained or inexperienced clerk or assistant, with inadequate instructions and sometimes inadequate or inaccurate witness statements.
Meanwhile the report found evidence of attempts to circumvent the ban on referral fees between claims management companies, insurers and law firms, though it noted that a clear distinction been made in the research between lawful and unlawful circumventions.
Concerns were also raised by some claimant firms that defendant solicitors are making pre-medical offers of settlement when the claimant is not in a position to ‘value’ the injuries.
The PI market is estimated to be worth around £3bn a year and accounts for the second largest segment of the UK legal services market.
SRA executive director of policy Crispin Passmore (pictured) said the regulator will carry out a more in-depth review to fully understand the nature, extent and impact of concerns highlighted in the research.
This will be published next year.
A delegation of Tory MPs was due to meet lord chancellor Liz Truss yesterday to press the case for further reform of the sector amid concern the government has cooled on radical measures proposed by former chancellor George Osborne in last year’s autumn statement.