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THE leadership of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (Apil) has yielded to the demands of its membership and watered down a key clause in a new code of conduct designed to stamp out "ambulance chasing".
The organisation's executive was forced to revise clause 10 of its new code of conduct, concerning referral fees, following protests by its members at an Apil conference last November. The original clause read: "No Apil member shall receive fees for the introduction of clients."
The clause was designed to stamp out cold-calling and "ambulance-chasing" schemes. Apil had publicly expressed disappointment at the Law Society's failure to clamp down on various marketing schemes, such as selling solicitors the names of accident victims interested in taking legal action.
But some personal injury lawyers feared the proposed clause would also prevent Apil members from passing on non-related personal injury work to colleagues and vice-versa for a cut of the fees.
The revised clause places responsibility for referral regulations on the Law Society's shoulders.
It reads: "Save where permitted by the rules of the member's relevant legal professional body, no Apil member shall pay or receive a fee for the introduction of clients."
But the Law Society itself admits its rules on referral are inadequate. A consultation document on the society's referral code, which is currently under review, says the rule regarding payment for referrals has "proved difficult to apply" particularly for personal injury cases and conveyancing.
It even contemplates the possibility of abolishing the current restrictions on payment for referrals.
Apil vice-president Ian Walker denied that the new clause amounted to watering down the code and said the code, in many ways, went beyond what the Law Society did.
"I think we realised when we were putting out the final version that it had to work in the real world." He added that the code was not set in stone and could be changed.