Firm profile: The Dental Law Partnership
15 August 2005
Founding partners: Greg Waldron and David Corless-Smith
Total number of partners: Three
Total number of staff: 20 (including14 fee-earners)
Main practice areas: Exclusively dental negligence; 100 per cent claimant work
Number of offices: Two
Location: Nantwich, Cheshire, plus a satellite office in Elstree, North London
Recent figures published by Dental Protection, a leading provider of indemnity insurance for the profession, revealed that the willingness in the UK to sue dentists outstripped even the litigation-loving US. It is reckoned that there are 73 claims for every 1,000 dentists in the UK, compared with 58 in the US. At a recent conference a representative from Dental Protection was asked why this was. Allegedly, his response comprised four words: "The Dental Law Partnership [DLP]."
It is an anecdote that ex-dentist and DLP founding partner David Corless-Smith happily recounts. It was not always so. Dental negligence claims were historically seen as low value by solicitors, who were reluctant to take them on. The problem for firms is that patients can spend in the region of £2,000 to investigate wether they have a case, which itself might be worth only £4,000. The difference between DLP and other firms is that all the partners are qualified dentists who have eschewed the drills for law. Corless-Smith spent a decade in general dental practice, during which time he was called to the bar in 1992 before qualifying as a solicitor in 1998. DLP claims to have opened up the market for patients by offering a free initial assessment by a dentally-qualified solicitor and then running cases on a 'no win, no fee' basis.
The firm, which has just celebrated its five-year anniversary, now claims to handle two-thirds of dental negligence claims for patients in England and Wales. "The firm was largely triggered by the changes to the conditional fee arrangement [CFA] regime, which we saw as an opportunity for a niche clinical negligence firm that was funded by CFAs," says Corless-Smith. 'No win, no fee' works well for the firm due to its in-house expertise. It has an exclusive arrangement with an after-the-event insurer, while low premiums reflect the firm's ability to accurately risk-assess cases.
DLP pays £100 referral fees for cases from other solicitors upon acceptance of instructions. The firm claims to have settled more than 800 cases since setting up and has won some £6m in damages for clients. "When we started, the subscription membership for the defence organisations, the equivalent of our professional indemnity insurance premiums, was about £500 for a high street dentist. Now it's about £2,500," Corless-Smith says.
Unsurprisingly, DLP's success has not gone down well with its partners' old profession. The firm has been given a hard time in the trade press and has successfully sued one of its critics for libel. So how does it think it is perceived? "There are two camps," says Corless-Smith. "The larger probably views us as traitors and the other camp accept that, where patients have been injured, they ought to be compensated."
So what does the firm say to its critics? "Dentists really have to pay lip service to the proposition that, if a patient has been avoidably injured and suffered a loss through a dentist not paying reasonable care, then the profession ought to compensate the patient," he says. "Even dentists have to accept that we're providing a positive service."
Greg Waldron & David Corless-Smith
The Dental Law Partnership