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Thomas Miller, which manages protection and indemnity clubs, is taking major steps across the globe to reform its own working practices and improve the way in which lawyers bill clients.
Around 50 UK law firms are considering their responses to Thomas Miller's requests for information on how they bill and their working policies. The survey is for UK defence clubs - insurers specialising in defence litigation. The results may determine how the clubs conduct business in the future. A second survey looks at enhancing the profitability of lawyers and preserving legal expertise. Charles Fenton, a solicitor at Thomas Miller and leader of the project, said: "The latter is being looked at because the marine market isn't a fashionable place to be." There are serious concerns among shipping lawyers that, while fees vary dramatically, clients are still receiving a very mixed service. Large firms are distressed at the trend that is seeing their smaller rivals get the bulk of the work because they charge less, but which are unable to cope with the large-scale work. Norton Rose shipping partner Neil Miller said that Thomas Miller's survey on behalf of UK defence clubs questions whether law firms provide estimates for work, budgeting, and if they use strategy advice papers after receiving instructions. In relation to the latter, he said: "This is to avoid lawyers doing cases for £50,000 but running up fees of £75,000. "Thomas Miller would be aware of the work that can be handed out purely on the basis of personal relationships. This may not be the best way of handling cases, as it's difficult for syndicate managers to control where cases go." The second survey on profitability involves canvassing the opinions of 38 US and UK shipping firms. Part of the aim is to assist shipping lawyers, particularly in terms of profitability. Therefore, Thomas Miller is reviewing all of its internal working practices in terms of claims handling. It has considered introducing conditional fee agreements, but this is unlikely to play a major role in fee arrangements. Fenton said that this was a global initiative on behalf of suppliers of legal services to marine and transport businesses and is an important part of a wider initiative.