Changing Solicitors in Personal Injury Claims

In these consumer-driven times, solicitors, like many businesses have to work hard to keep our customers happy or face losing them.  It is becoming increasingly common in our experience for dissatisfied clients to look to change solicitors during personal injury claims.

The most common reasons for this are lack of communication, general delays, being dealt with by a different person every time the firm is contacted, not being able to meet with a solicitor, receiving too many standard letters and dissatisfaction with the advice given.

Generally, there is nothing to stop a client changing solicitors if they want to.  In injury cases however there may be a financial downside to doing so and this will usually depend on how the case is being funded.

If your case is being funded by a Legal Expenses Insurer (whose product you have normally purchased with your house contents or motor insurance) then many such insurers will have no objection to your changing solicitors and will happily indemnify the new firm without you having to pay anything.  This is certainly the case once Court proceedings have started.

However, a limited number of Legal Expenses Insurers will not cover your costs if you try to transfer to a non-panel solicitor before Court proceedings have started.  This will not mean that you have to pay the old solicitors for what they had done, but just that you will not be able to use your legal expenses cover with your new chosen solicitors.  However, all is not lost as often, your preferred solicitors may be able to persuade the insurers that under various rules and regulations they have no option but to continue to support you and a letter to the Insurance Services Ombudsman may do the trick. If not, they will probably enter into a Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA) with you so you will not have to pay any legal fees if your claim does not succeed.

If you need to start Court Proceedings in connection with your claim then, at that stage, the Legal Expenses Insurer will almost certainly agree to cover your costs as the law states that you have complete freedom to select the solicitor of your choice once the proceedings become necessary.

The situation is more complicated if you have a CFA with the solicitors you no longer require.  A CFA normally means that you pay nothing if you win but a success fee of up to 25% of your compensation to your solicitors if your claim is successful. The existing solicitors’ firm will then have a choice of either sending you a bill, which you must pay, before they transfer the file to your new solicitors, or, if they still think your case is likely to succeed, they can elect not to send a bill and collect their success fee from you if the new solicitor wins the case for you.  In these situations it is worthwhile either you or your proposed solicitor telephoning the firm who are currently acting to see what their decision will be if you decide to change firms. Normally they will agree to the transfer without sending a bill in my experience.

If your case is funded by a trade union, neither the union nor the solicitors can stop you transferring your instructions to new solicitors but you will not generally be able to transfer the cover provided by the trade union to another firm of solicitors and will have to make new arrangements with those you transfer to who will hopefully agree to enter into a CFA with you.

These are general guidelines that only apply to personal injury cases.

Nowadays, we find that Insurers instruct a limited number of solicitors, often in places such as Liverpool, Cardiff,  Manchester and Birmingham. Those solicitors deal with their clients exclusively by letters, phone and email. They often tend to send you to see a medical expert within a few weeks of the accident and often try and settle claims before the injured person has recovered from their injuries. Not surprisingly, we find that  more and more of the Sheffield public are looking to instruct their own chosen, local solicitors.  My advice to anyone who is dissatisfied with their solicitors is to contact a firm they would prefer to instruct and discuss the matter with them. The cost of those discussions is normally free.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy your weekend whether it involves watching the Tour de Yorkshire, your local football team or avoiding all forms of election coverage. Perhaps local pubs should advertise themselves as “Political Free Zones”? It would work for me.

Jonathan Stittle

Article written by

Jonathan Stittle

Our Personal Injury partner at Taylor&Emmet LLP. 0114 218 4049.

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