Miners’ compensation gifts firms another £174m

The leading law firms involved in handling the British Coal compensation claims pulled in £174.3m in the last year, despite the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) continuing its investigations into several firms for misconduct.

Doncaster-based three-partner personal injury boutique Beresfords topped the breadwinners’ list after bringing in £43.3m, according to figures derived from a written answer by Labour peer Lord Bach.

Thompsons Solicitors were second on £27.1m, followed by Cardiff-based Hugh James on £24m.

One SRA insider said law firms reaping such huge sums of money on the back of miners suffering conditions such as respiratory disease and vibration white finger projected the wrong image of the legal profession.

“Some politicians are calling the saga a feeding frenzy for lawyers, and with figures like these coming out of the taxpayer’s pocket it’s hard to argue,” said the source.

The SRA, however, said the 53 investigations into how the law firms have conducted themselves through the British Coal scheme will continue, despite many firms having to pay millions back to the Government after being overpaid.

Last year, as revealed in The Lawyer (9 April), 30 firms shared a pot of almost £800m for litigation costs.

Just weeks later, the High Court ruled that several miners law firms would have to repay the Government an estimated £100m after being overpaid in relation to the respiratory disease compensation scheme.

The Lawyer can now reveal that, according to the Government, the final figure that “several hundred firms” have to pay back is £80.6m. Beresfords was one of the firms indebted to the Government. According to the latest accounts the firm had to return £10.9m, which the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) said had been paid.

In addition, there were 15 other firms that owed more than £100,000 to BERR – Avalon Solicitors among them. The Warrington-based firm’s senior partner Andrew Nulty was last year ranked the second highest-earning lawyer in the UK, taking home £13m. He was only pipped to the post by Beresfords name partner Jim Beresford on £16.8m.

The BERR said around £6.3m remained outstanding by the time the debts were due to be settled on 30 May. “Agreements are already in place for repayment by some firms with outstanding debts by the end of the year,” said a BERR spokesman, adding that after 12 June these payments would be subject to an 8 per cent debt judgement interest rate.

The spokesman added: “Discussions are also in hand with other firms where they have asked for some more time to settle their debt and the department is reviewing these requests on a case-by-case basis.”

Beresfords declined to comment.

beresfords solicitors what top firms received in Litigation fees £m Beresfords Solicitors 43.3 Thompsons Solicitors 27.1 Hugh James Solicitors 24.0 Raleys Solicitors 21.6 Browell Smith & Co 18.8 Union of Democratic Mineworkers 8.3 Avalon Solicitors 7.2 Graysons Solicitors 6.8 Mark Gilbert Morse 6.6 Watson Burton 4.2 Moss Solicitors 3.3 Towells Solicitors 3.1 Total 174.3 FIRMS OVERPAID IN EXCESS OF £100,000 Ashton Morton Slack Avalon Solicitors Bailey Bravo Jobling Beresfords Solicitors Birchall Blackburn Solicitors Cordner Lewis Solicitors Delta Legal Hilary Meredith Solicitors Ingrams Solicitors McConville O’Neill Kidd & Spoor Harper MK Legal MLM Solicitors Recompense Simpson Millar Union of Democratic Mineworkers

This Doncaster-based boutique last year could boast it had the UK’s highest-paid lawyer, with senior partner Jim Beresford taking home £16.8m. But he may have lost this title.

According to the firm’s latest accounts, Beresford’s entitlement dropped by more than a third to £10.8m. His daughter Esta and Doug Smith, the other two partners in the firm, saw their average take-home fall from £1.8m to £1.3m.

The firm witnessed a revenue increase of 20 per cent on the previous year to £41m, but profit dropped from £20.4m to £13.5m. The accounts stated: “[This is] mainly due to the reduction of OROS [optional risk offer schemes] fees relating to the British Coal costs hearing which has recently been settled.” In English that translates to profit is down because of the £10.9m Beresfords had to pay back to the Government after a High Court case.