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What does 2014 hold for personal injury lawyers?

The best career move could be into professional negligence, Tim Oliver warns   One unanswered question on nearly everyone’s lips after all of the upheaval of 2013 was ‘will the discount range change?’ The question remains as 2014 gets underway. An upward adjustment, which once seemed out of the question, would almost certainly lead to an increase in periodical payment orders. A reduction could see lump sum settlements return to favour. Whatever happens someone is going to be very unhappy but a decision of some sort would be welcome. Claimants and defendants alike enter 2014 wondering just how robustly the courts will impose both the letter and the spirit of the Jackson reforms. The guidance handed down by the Court of Appeal in cases such as Mitchell v News Group Newspapers Ltd suggests we can expect a pretty rough ride. Hopefully, the courts remember they are there to administer justice rather than becoming too obsessed with beating up the legal profession. We all appreciate that settlement is preferable to trial but we must be careful not to deprive some litigants of their day in court because the case is thrown out ‘for technical reasons’. The client may have some recourse against the defaulting solicitor but what does that entail? Another trip to a solicitor, arguments about loss of chance and a hope that déjà vu does not strike. It looks very much as though the career move in 2014 will be into handling professional negligence claims against other solicitors and their junior fee earners. Another concern is the fine balance that has been created between low cost, processed litigation and the minimum level of skill required by lawyers undertaking this work. One of the unintended consequences of the reforms will be a steady rise in the number of litigants in person. The legal profession is under a duty to treat these individuals fairly but that takes time and has a cost which is difficult to recover. One-way costs shifting increases the incentive for some claimants to pursue claims which, without the ‘filter’ mechanism of a solicitor, are more likely to run. What we probably will not see in 2014: • consistency in approach from the courts • cases being handled by specialist judges who understand the issues and the problems • or an increase in the speed at which the wheels of justice turn The next year may see the focus return to ADR. If so, let’s hope the judiciary accepts that there are cases which cannot be resolved without a full trial of the issues. The winning party should not be penalised for declining discussions which would have served no purpose. The time cannot be far off (although perhaps not in 2014) when the defendant ABS lawyer begins to choose from which claimant ABS to buy the weekly ‘groceries’. The problems faced by High Street practitioners are already evident. The era of the one-stop-shop super firms may be fast approaching. Personal injury lawyers will spend 2014 watching deadlines, making sure external providers respond in good time, and dotting every eye and crossing every T before any court hearing. We will try to achieve the best outcome for our clients within whatever constraints the courts may place on us. Tim Oliver, CEO of Parabis Group

2 January 2014

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