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SOLICITORS in the UK could follow the example set by US advocates, taking out personal insurance rather than relying on the professional indemnity cover provided by firms.
The move, which would "revolutionalise" professional indemnity cover, comes in response to a trend among smaller practices for suing lawyers and support staff for the excess on insurance claims.
The Locum Solicitors Group - which has been particularly hard hit by the practice - is also planning to ask agencies which find work for its members to adopt a model contract clearing individual solicitors of liability.
The organisation, in conjunction with the Young Solicitors Group, established a task force earlier this year to investigate the practice. Representatives from seven legal and commerce and industry groups, including the Institute of Legal Executives and the Association of Taxation Technicians, have joined.
Talks were held last week with an underwriter who is considering offering individual policies to solicitors.
The task force, which has the support of Law Society president Charles Elly, will meet with the Solicitors Indemnity Fund in the next month.
Plans to petition the profession are also underway, and test cases, which may go to Europe, have been planned in a bid to change the Solicitors Act.
Joint task force chair Geraldine McCool says she is aware of 17 current cases of staff being sued by firms.
She says the average amount claimed is u6,000, although one assistant solicitor is being sued for u12,000 amid claims that he was negligent on a stamp duty transaction.
McCool says only a small number of cases had come to the group's attention prior to 1993, but "recessionary factors" have caused more firms to act in recent times.
"We're talking about, almost without exception, small firms," says McCool. "This involves an extreme amount of hassle for the firm and I'd say you have to be pretty desperate to start down that track."
McCool's co-chair, locum solicitor Janice Cunningham, has been granted pro bono funding for a case taken against her by Acton solicitors Fairchild Greig.
Cunningham, who worked for the firm in 1990, is being sued for u8,000 over an
allegation that she failed to serve proceedings in a personal injury case.