Taking a direct approach to PI cases

Claims Direct has come under fire from the Law Society for existing. Peter Carlile defends his firm's record and outlines its plans for expansion. Peter Carlile is the commercial director of Claims Direct. Of the 2.2 million people who suffer in non-fault accidents each year, only 14 per cent make a personal injury claim.

This problem in the road traffic accident (RTA) field has been addressed by pre-event legal expenses insurance. But for other types of accident the legal profession fails to assist those people with genuine claims – who are often from the most vulnerable parts of the community.

This issue is not new and the legal profession has sought to resolve it for some time – most notably by introducing the Law Society's Accident Line Protect scheme.

But such attempts appear to have failed to reach some sectors of society, particularly those not used to consulting lawyers, while a large majority still perceive the profession as unapproachable and expensive.

There is also a widespread lack of awareness and apathy about making a claim. It is no surprise therefore that commercial organisations have now stepped into the marketplace, attracting new business from sectors of the community not used to dealing with solicitors.

For example, in the past three years we have processed 2,500 claims for accident victims recovering £7.2m in compensation and new enquiries are being received at the rate of 1,000 per week, half of which are passed to solicitors, adding to the 9,000 cases already in the system.

Those specialising in this sector will benefit from an increase in this work after the anticipated demise of legal aid for PI cases next year.

We already have 83 firms of solicitors on our PI panel, which means that we and they must operate within the ethical guidelines laid down by the Law Society.

We do not, for example, "cold-call", obtaining 70 per cent of our clients through television and radio advertising, a further 20 per cent from referrals and a diminishing number from marketing questionnaires, where potential clients tick a box to indicate they would like to be contacted.

A 14-day cooling off period for the client is strictly enforced and where appropriate more beneficial alternatives are explained.

So why has a company like ours been so successful? The answer is that in addition to offering a genuine no-win, no fee arrangement, the legal process has been made more user-friendly for clients – they are seen at home, at a time convenient to them, by a claims manager who liaises with the solicitor on all aspects of the case.

The claims manager – a franchisee of the business – is fully trained in the support work required by the solicitor, including collating all the information, and "holds the client's hand" throughout the case – a task which most solicitors are too busy to do.

The claim proceeds once it has been established that there is at least a 50 per cent chance of success. No insurance premium or any other up-front costs are paid. In return the firms receive a costs indemnity whilst the client receives the benefit of counsel's advice and expert medical opinion. If compensation is recovered the client pays 30 per cent (plus tax) to the claims manager.

With a new national prime time television campaign on the way, we expect the volume of claims to increase dramatically, creating yet more work for lawyers and a need to increase the size of our legal panel.

Since the majority of these new claims will be from those who would not normally consider seeking legal advice, should our critics not be asking why consulting a solicitor directly is such an unappealing option for so many?