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Society condemns ‘plain wrong’ criticism of legal aid stance

Leading clinical negligence lawyers have warned of the risks arising from growing numbers of personal injury practitioners moving into their sector. Legal consultancy Zebra last week reported a tenfold increase in enquiries about setting up or expanding medical negligence cases since the beginning of the year. The majority of those contacts came from personal injury firms hit by cuts to fixed fees for RTA claims. Clinical negligence solicitors say cases in their sector require specialist knowledge and major investment to ensure they are handled correctly. Zoe Holland, managing director of Zebra Legal, said: ‘The temptation for some firms is to consider placing their experienced personal injury solicitors into the role of clinical negligence risk assessor. Unless the assessor has significant experience in this field, or has a medical background, this scenario is set to fail.’ Stephen Webber (pictured), head of medical negligence at national firm Hugh James and chairman of the Society of Clinical Injury Lawyers (SCIL), said it was important for clients to be well informed about who is conducting their case. ‘The business models are different with PI/RTA firms working on high upfront costs for referral fees pre-Jackson and advertising post-Jackson and then wanting quick turnaround for cashflow purposes,’ he said. ‘By contrast, clinical negligence firms will run the case for the correct time period. ‘The risk with quick turnaround is the risk of under settlement.’ SCIL, which has members from more than 100 firms, wants a new quality mark to inform clients they are instructing a specialist. ‘Lawyers should not be allowed to protect their patch but the public should be able to make an informed decision,’ Webber added. Geraldine McCool, director at national firm MPH Solicitors, said personal injury firms had to make sure they had the right infrastructure in place before changing specialism. ‘It’s a very complex area,’ she said.