Protecting the good name of lawyers

Image, the perennial problem for the legal profession, is particularly pertinent to personal injury lawyers, if the US experience is anything to go by. There, the excesses of lawyers, from ambulance chasing to touting for business at the scene of accidents, have managed to give the legal profession a rather sullied reputation.

The consequent loss of respect has left a sour taste in the mouth of US firms, which feel that their lawyers are getting an unfair press. It is a lesson which the UK legal profession would do well to take to heart. Accusations that lawyers here are engaging in practices which could justifiably be described as close to the bone have led to calls for the Law Society to intervene.

With the benefit of having seen how ambulance chasing can do such damage, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers has acted to give guidance to its members. Although most of its new Code of Conduct is common sense, Apil has deemed it fit to push these points home.

No doubt incidents like the "names for cash" episode last year, when one firm paid a marketing company for a list of 500 accident victims who expressed an interest in taking legal action, has put pressure on Apil to make its stand.

The new code attempts to tighten up advertising procedures for Apil members. And it particularly targets third-party referrals, saying that third parties must conform to the code if they are to refer work to Apil members.

Can it curb the wider excesses of personal injury lawyers across the country? Probably not, as some of these will operate outside the control of Apil. However, it is to be welcomed as it lays down standards of what is acceptable practice for personal injury lawyers. And, if Apil is seen to be actively policing and enforcing its code, then the message will get across that at the very least, solicitors are concerned about sharp practices.