Cheap gatekeepers: the false economy of inexperienced triage staff
The Civil Liability Bill will prompt even more firms to consider recruiting low-level call handlers to keep costs down; that's a risky response, warns David Kirwan
When the Civil Liability Bill received royal assent in December, personal injury solicitors across the country wrung their hands at what was seemingly the latest government attempt to remove access to justice from the nation’s most vulnerable.
The huge proposed reduction in compensation and the implementation in tariffs will render many worthy cases economically unviable for solicitors – leaving claimants to take on the might of insurance companies’ vast legal teams alone.
Injured parties will soon be faced with the decision to either go through the small claims courts and accept a potentially laughable amount of compensation, or pay for legal advice that could run up a bill totalling more than they could ever be awarded in damages under the new system.
However, it isn’t only the clients that will now be carefully considering their options before proceeding with a case. The bill also places increased pressure on solicitors to do the same.
Meticulous assessment Vetting claims has long been a vital part of a solicitor’s role, but in the current climate where expensive disbursements, extreme demands from both client and court, and allegations of fundamental dishonesty are now the norm, it has become more important than ever for law firms to carefully risk assess cases before they agree to take them on.
Add into that mix the ramifications of the Civil Liability Bill and suddenly these meticulous assessment procedures are no longer just important; they’re imperative. Of course, the most important element in this decision-making process is undoubtedly the gatekeeper; the person who ultimately uses their experience and knowledge to weigh up the likelihood of a case’s success against the cost of bringing it before the court.
I was intrigued, then, to learn recently of the existence of a firm that employs 18- 21-year-olds with no experience of personal injury cases to assess potential claims.
Client medical history, loss of earnings, complex accident circumstances, insurance policies, previous accidents in similar circumstances... these are all fairly complex issues for a qualified solicitor to grapple with.
Is it right, then, that we should be placing such monumental decisions in the hands of those who have not even gone through legal training, let alone accumulated the valuable knowledge earned by experienced legal professionals?
Handing over such a crucial part of the risk assessment process to simply cut costs is, in my view, a dangerous experiment.
By using a non-experienced individual in place of a legal professional, there is a huge risk of cases being accepted that could put a firm in jeopardy, both through potential negligence claims and economic loss.
Imagine, for example, those claims that can seem almost too straightforward to be true. An inexperienced claims assessor may accept them on face value, while a practised solicitor would be able to identify hidden problems.
Then there are those cases that would require so much time and money to be spent on them that it would be disproportionate to the costs that could be recovered, and ultimately financially unviable to run.
Again, a legal veteran would spot this straight away. Proficient personal injury solicitors understand that in many cases, the decision to seek legal advice following an injury is no small undertaking.
Important factors such as whether the accident occurred at work or the stress of having to relive the cause of an injury many times in order to find a resolution will have been considered before the client has reached the decision to consult a solicitor.
At the point where they do make contact, these anxious clients need to be guided smoothly through the process by an expert hand who can reassure and move quickly to quell concerns. Understanding these subtle nuances is a crucial part of a solicitor’s role.
To hand that process over to young inexperienced employees – no matter how bright they may be – could ultimately prove a costly error.
David Kirwan is managing partner at Kirwans kirwanssolicitors.co.uk