Russell Jones & Walker is launching the UK's first occupational disease unit.
Simon Allen, managing partner of Russell Jones' Sheffield office, says that technology and a changing work environment will make it necessary for personal injury firms to reorganise in this way.
But rivals are branding it a publicity stunt to try to drum up lucrative business.
Allen says: “Occupational disease work always managed to carry on in an ad hoc way before. But now technology has ensured that there are more job-related illnesses than ever. For instance, repetitive strain injury, vibration white finger and mobile phone use have added to traditional occupational diseases.
“Lawyers must keep on top of developments, and they must develop a coordinated strategy based on research. We are doing so, and that puts us in a better position to advise clients.”
He adds that over the next 35 years personal injury work will also increase because there will be more than a quarter of a million deaths from asbestos-related cancer. Symptoms of the disease can take 20 to 60 years to develop.
All eight offices of Russell Jones will have representatives from the unit co-ordinating its activity, but it centres around the Sheffield office because Allen is situated there and “it has always been an area of industrial disease”.
The unit will have an on-site nurse, researchers who follow medical developments, bulletins, and a database that all the firm's solicitors can access.
Allen says: “We are the first firm to do anything like this. Our competitors will say they are doing similar things, but there is no way they are going into as much specialist depth. The key for us is keeping abreast of developments.”
But Tom Jones, PI specialist at Thompsons, says that Russell Jones' occupational disease unit may be the first but it is not innovative.
Jones says: “This type of practice has been going on for years. It is called specialisation and client care. It is something we have been doing since the 1920s.”
He adds: “It is coincidental that Russell Jones' publicity stunt comes when there is lucrative asbestos work they are hoping to contract on.”