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24 November 2013 / legal-blog
A blog article by Jonathan White
Mr Andrew Proctor was recently awarded damages after a law firm advised him about his vibration white finger claim based on a tick-box questionnaire without ever meeting him face-to-face.
The case of Mr Proctor has understandably stimulated debate about what is seen as a conflict between fixed costs and quality of service (23 comments on the Law Society Gazette website and counting!).
The judge found that the law firm had failed to include a claim for activities which he could no longer carry out, including gardening and DIY. Had instructions been taken differently, these areas of loss would have been identified and additional damages awarded; they failed the tick-box test.
There is a view according to which there is an exact correlation between fee reduction, declining levels of service and increasing levels of negligence.
There are probably tens of thousands of tick-box claims, where all manner of losses have been missed. There are many lawyers who are critical of over-reliance on IT, an emphasis on standardization of processes and the increased use of paralegals.
None of this is news, but as costs on almost all case types become squeezed, organisations serving the sector will strive to find efficiencies. Fixed costs and proportionality make that a certainty despite the criticisms of the tick-box approach.
It is clear from Mr Proctor’s case and the inevitable outcome of the Andrew Mitchell ‘Plebgate’ cost litigation that courts are not going to let lawyers use fee reductions as an excuse for shoddy work, mistakes or negligence. The judiciary clearly expects law firms to deliver a gold standard service irrespective of reductions in fee levels.
The injured consumer neither knows nor cares about fixed fees, Jackson or case management systems. They expect high standards of customer care and professionalism.
Like in every industry, ultimately only those who deliver the best service to the consumer will prosper.
The key to avoiding tick-box negligence is getting the balance right between efficient processes, great IT, experience and legal brain power.
Too much of the former and you fail the Proctor tick-box test; untargeted use of the latter and you can’t make fixed costs work.
Unless the industry gets the balance between commoditisation and grey hairs right, both law firms and the injured consumers will suffer.
For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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