As the sun goes down on another year, we all look forward to what lies ahead. I will make some resolutions that will last a day or so. I also like to predict what lies in store. I normally predict, with great confidence, that Everton will win a major trophy. Read into that what you want. With that in mind, here are some thoughts for 2018!
1. By the end of 2018 we will know with some certainty, the date in 2019 when fixed fees will be introduced for Personal injury and Disease Claims. This will largely follow the recommendations in Jackson’s July 2017 report including the Intermediate Track and the four bands – with disease cases becoming subject to FRC but at the highest band. NIHL Claims will be subject to the costs and procedure agreed between Claimants’ and Defendants’ representatives and approved by Jackson. Clinical Negligence cases up to £25k will become subject to some limited form of FRC following further discussions between representatives of each side. My hunch is that April 2019 will be the date but it could even fall to October 2019. I wouldn’t rule out 2018 but neither would I put money on it.
2. I expect there to be a regrouping of the Claimant PI sector with a growth in the number of smaller niche firms. Ever since the 2004 Clementi report there has been a consensus that big is best. But big is also expensive with many hungry mouths to feed. This will happen alongside a revival of the old style high street practice with less dependence on CMCs and a greater emphasis on local marketing and passing trade. Firms who downsize and control expenses will actually be better equipped to manage the inevitable changes, with some consolidation and then organic growth. This flies in the face of most commentators who predict that many firms will fall by the way and that we will be left with a small number of mega providers. I think some smaller firms who fail to adapt will struggle. Bigger firms will also struggle. Growth from grassroots will in my view be an exciting an unexpected outcome. All of this will happen alongside the relentless march of Social Medial and Robots (see below)
Alongside the above there will be a continued growth in the number of ABSs, particularly in the RTA sector. It will certainly make commercial sense for hire companies and repairers to develop their legal work from within. This is more likely to be based on a smaller grouping of providers working together rather than the huge monoliths which have failed so badly.
4 One factor driving a move towards smaller entities providing PI work will be the ever-accelerating power of Social Media and Artificial Intelligence. Social Media platforms provide quick and affordable marketing to a huge potential audience. I was a Conference in 2016 at which someone from Google stated that YouTube was the world’s second largest search engine –
Videos are easy to make. Video marketing lends itself to a person-centred approach which is very suitable for smaller units, which emphasise a closer client/lawyer relationship. Client communication will also change dramatically as emails fall in use and messaging apps such as The Link App come to the fore.
I recently used LISA to draft an Non-Disclosure Agreement . It took less than 15 minutes to produce the document which required little amendment. This is one example of a trend which will continue to grow at great pace.
As all of this progresses throughout 2018 I think more individuals and smaller firms will say –‘With all of this happening, I can provide a good service, earn a reasonable living and have a life’. I am already in contact with lawyers who are thinking along these lines.
Firms who traditionally did Fast Track PI work will continue to diversify into Multi Track PI, Disease and Clinical Negligence where there will be some scope for targeted marketing as the influence of CMCs fades. The firms who focus on excellence and professional service can do well. The current trend for Holiday Sickness and Cavity Wall claims will play a role for a year or so but probably have a limited shelf life.
Further reforms to litigation costs will find their way on to the agenda. QOCS needs a complete overhaul. Any system under which Defendants can only recover their legal costs by proving fundamental dishonesty on the part of the loser is bound to end in tears. This needs a root and branch re-think. Will this lead to a move away from any recoverable costs to be replaced by Damages Based Agreements and an increase in the level of compensation? I think that this will certainly be discussed by the end of the year - for good or for bad.
So, these are my initial thoughts for 2018. Some may disagree. I would love to discuss! It promises to be a busy time, a time of much upheaval but also a time of some optimism for those who can see change as an opportunity rather than a threat.
Happy new Year.