2012 is ‘The Year of Living Dangerously’…if you live or work in Britain.

2012  is 'The Year of Living Dangerously'...if you live or work in Britain.

Photo:The Telegraph

The Mayans predicted 21st December 2012 as the end of days.

January 5th, 2012 comes a close second as David Cameron picked this day to get a head start on the Mayans and launch his government’s ‘Year of Living Dangerously’  – for you and me, that is.

Let us review recent events…because this government seems determined to keep reviewing health and safety legislation until it gets the answer it wants…

 

In October 2010, Lord Young’s report – ‘Common Sense, Common Safety’ stated on page 19 that:

‘Britain’s compensation culture is fuelled by media stories about individuals receiving large compensation pay outs for personal injury claims.

The problem of the compensation culture prevalent in society today is, however, one of perception rather than reality.’

Lord Young’s report was welcomed by the government.

 

In November 2011, Professor Ragnar Lofstedt concluded in his report – ‘Reclaiming health and safety for all. An independent review of health and safety legislation’ that: 

‘In general, there is no need for radically altering current health and safety legislation.‘ 

He went on to say that he wanted businesses to :

‘reclaim ownership of the management of health and safety and see it as a vital part of their operation rather than an unnecessary and bureaucratic paperwork exercise.’

Professor Lofstedt’s report was welcomed by the government. 

 

However, on 5th January 2012, the Prime Minister stood the core findings of these reports on their heads and launched a vitriolic assault on accident victims and their legal representatives as he endeavoured to sell the British public the idea that health and safety legislation is bad for business. 

He pledged to ‘slay the health and safety monster.’

He vowed to make 2012 the year we ‘kill off the health and safety culture for good.’

He fumed that ‘health and safety legislation has been an albatross around the neck of British business.’

He promised that ‘our plan will deter the speculative health and safety chancers who leech off good businesses.’   

Either he hasn’t read these reports;commissioned by his own government, or he has chosen to ignore their findings and twist their conclusions to suit his own agenda, which is quite remarkably in tune with the agenda promoted by the Association of British Insurers.

The ABI has been invited to a Number 10 ‘summit’ to discuss how to dismantle 178 years of progress in health and safety regulation designed to protect British workers and the British public.

Quite apart from the appallingly injudicious language employed by the PM and his tabloid-toadying populist sound bites, his policy makes no commercial sense whatsoever.    

Here’s the counter argument as proposed by a senior US government official, which we highlighted in our blog of 16th February last year…

David Michaels, Assistant Secretary for Labor in the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration had a lot to say on the subject of health and safety regulation and jobs:

‘Despite concerns about the effect of regulation on American business, there is clear evidence that OSHA’s common sense regulations have made working conditions in this country far safer than 40 year’s ago when this agency was created, while at the same time protecting American jobs.

 

The truth is that OSHA standards don’t kill jobs. They stop jobs from killing workers.

OSHA standards don’t just prevent worker injuries and illnesses, they also drive technological innovation, making industry more competitive.’

 

Despite the weight of evidence proving that robust health and safety legislation actually improves the health of the economy, the government is hell-bent on making its point in 2012.

 

Let’s hope that someone in the cabinet has enough spirit and common sense to speak up for our well-being before we revert back to the worst excesses of rogue factory owners and ‘laissez-faire’ employee exploitation that treated worker safety as an impediment to profit.

“Pieces of eight…pieces of eight…” – Pirate ship or flag of convenience as Admiral ponders legal launch?

Photo: The Telegraph

Is it now any port in a storm for under-pressure insurer Admiral?

Saturday’s Telegraph reported that Admiral, the FTSE 100 motor insurer, is considering branching into the legal sector as it “faces up to the loss of the lucrative referral fees that generate millions of pounds in profits each year.”
 
According to industry insiders, Admiral must move quickly to replace the loss of income from the fees paid to insurers for information of potential personal injury claimants. 

The Cardiff-based group is exploring plans either to set up its own personal injury law firm where it could potentially direct customers with claims or become a majority backer in one, following the implementation of the Legal Services Act in October this year., when the implementation of “Tesco law” widened the provision of legal services to new investors including retailers, banks, insurers and outsourcing companies – The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as far as independent legal advice in the UK is concerned. 

However, as the story of Britain’s over-hyped, and mythical so-called compensation culture rumbles on, insurance companies are becoming increasingly uncomfortable when quizzed about their involvement in various referral fee schemes…and Admiral seems to be no different. We wonder why.

Despite periodic denials that it sells client information, according to official Admiral sources, about 5.6% of its overall profits come from these fees. So who are we to believe when Admiral contradicts its own statements?

Speaking after the referral fee ban was announced in September, the company said: “Admiral does not sell customer data; if one of our policyholders has a non-fault accident, suffers a bodily injury and they require assistance, we will put them in touch with a personal injury lawyer.” So what about the income from referral fees then?

Admiral would not be the first insurer to push into the legal industry. Axa owns Knight Legal Services, a defendant law firm. It has always denied it refers its customers to Knight Legal Services and says it has no plans to start doing so…but what will happen if insuers own law firms?

How can injured people be confident that their accident compensation claims will be handled fairly and with their best interests at heart? It might be tricky to find independent legal advice when the representatives of those causing injury are also investors in law firms that pursue claimants’ rights, or even worse perhaps, set up theit own personal injury law firms…

It would appear that Admiral’s plans are at an early stage and are one of several being considered. However, the news is likely to raise eyebrows across the City with Admiral’s shares having fallen heavily in recent months. A case of who’s next?

So me hearties, let’s observe this “rum do” as they set sail on a steady course for berating personal injury lawyers, stigmatising their clients, perpetuating the myth of a compensation culture and,

oh yes,    …becoming personal injury lawyers themselves??

Can all this be about profit and an attempt to make a flawed business model work? Well, it’s not quite “Neverland”, but you can see it on the horizon, allegedly…

 

 

If you want to deliver legal services but can’t be bothered meeting clients, then perhaps you too could become an ABS…

At a time when many lawyers don’t even want to be lawyers, we ask the question “what is driving the demand for Alternative Business Structures?”

Today, legal expenses insurer DAS has taken the next step in its preparations to become an alternative business structure (ABS) by acquiring online legal services company Everything Legal.

Do they really want to be lawyers or do they want to target the soft underbelly of the legal services market – ‘the low-hanging fruit’ as they see it – and leave the tricky, problematic and challenging lawyering stuff to local firms who employ qualified solicitors? 

We have seen Amanda Holden wax lyrical on Good Morning recently as she ‘helpfully’ and uninvitedly highlighted the evils of High Street law firms whilst extolling the as yet unproven virtues of her new employers.

These would be the very same employers who are relying on said High Street firms signing up for their new franchise in order to deliver legal services in towns and cities the length and breadth of the UK.

Will the public get a better service because law firms have a shiny new sign above the door?

Are the public THAT gullible?

There are quite a few legal brands jostling for position in a market they claim is ripe for re-structuring. They claim that the public have been ripped-off for years by unscrupulous, money-grabbing shysters who fleece their clients and pocket fat fees for old rope.

However, the truly ‘ironical bit’ is that they actually think that their brand new brand will instantly engender client loyalty and referrals as they seek to deal the ‘coup de grace’ to local solicitors…by positioning themselves as trusted legal advisors.   

The mixed message that these brands must sell is this:

“Existing lawyers bad – new lawyers good.”

As for the big beasts in the jungle, aka the ‘supermarket sweepers’, whose legal services business model is predicated on hoovering up everything that they think they can plaster their brand across – AND DELIVER AS CHEAPLY AS POSSIBLE… 

can the public trust the lawbreakers when it comes to upholding their legal rights? 

Sorry, we know that this might sound a bit petty and small-minded and self-serving or even insular and parochial, but actually we don’t wish any of them well in their endeavours.

Why?

Easy one this…

It’s because we and firms like us the length and breadth of Britain are the best legal services option for the British public. 

Experience, expertise and empathy with a client’s case go a long way to reassuring people that solicitors have their best interests at heart.

When all is said and done, in the brave new world of ABS, is the public going to be any the wiser about how to choose a lawyer? 

On 24th November, the legal sector’s consumer watchdog warned that voluntary quality
marks should not be made mandatory to access part of the market as this could ‘usurp’ the role of regulators.

Elisabeth Davies, chair of the Legal Services Consumer Panel, said:

‘Consumers tell us that specialist expertise is important to them when choosing lawyers.However, in their current form, some voluntary membership scheme claims that their members are better than the market average just can’t be relied upon by consumers.’

The watchword for the public here is ask for a personal referral from family and friends and / or trust the tried and tested specialist legal regulators.

Despite the blurb, do not rely on a ‘flag of convenience.’  

Defy, Disregard, Deceive & Deal – the new firm of supermarket lawyers coming to a high street near you soon

Now that we have got Tesco Law, we thought it might be interesting to consider how the supermarkets might go about delivering legal services…

 

Since we are in the very early days of this ‘Brave New World’ of legal services we thought it only fair to turn the spotlight on some recent examples of what happens when some big retailers come up against laws they’re not too keen on…apparently.

 

 

Defy…?

 

On 2nd October the Sunday Mail ran a story with the following headline

 

“Supermarkets slash alcohol prices in sneaky bid to beat new law.”

 

DEFIANT supermarkets slashed booze prices yesterday to beat the new law banning bulk-buy discounts.

 

Shoppers could still buy bargain booze as sneaky stores simply cut prices.

Alcohol Focus Scotland chief executive Dr Evelyn Gillan said:

 

“Retailers like to present themselves as being responsible, but what they are doing is finding ways to get round the law to ensure they can still sell booze at pocket money prices.

 

 

Disregard…?

 

A row has broken out over a new West Yorkshire Asda supermarket just weeks after it opened.  It has been opening half an hour earlier than permitted since it began trading on Wednesday, September 7.

 

Under the existing planning permission Asda should be starting business at 8.30am each day, but instead has been opening at 8am.

 

The company has now applied, retrospectively, for the earlier time but Councillor Colin Campbell (Lib Dem, Otley & Yeadon) accused it of riding roughshod over the feelings of local residents:

 

He said: “I think it is unfortunate that a large company like Asda choose to flout the planning laws in this way. I have spoken to planning officers concerning this and a number of other unauthorised activities on site. I am told that now that retrospective applications have been submitted they can take no action until they are determined.”

 

An Asda spokesman acknowledged that the store had been opening at the earlier time but said it was now sticking to the 8.30am opening until it gained planning permission

 

Well good on yer mate for observing the rules.

 

He said: “All Asda supermarket stores open at 8am and we didn’t want to deprive the people of Otley by opening 30 minutes later.“

 

Of course! – this is just about ASDA ‘normalising’ its services across the UK!

 

 

Deceive…?

 

 

A Tesco Express, in the Stokes Croft area of Bristol, which was the focus of riots in April is still boarded up and has now been covered in graffiti.

 

For years Stokes Croft has been a bohemian area, crammed with independent shops, squats, bars and clubs and it is this individual character which some people felt would be compromised by the arrival of supermarket giant Tesco, even in its smaller Tesco Express guise.

 

Much of the anger was directed at the planning process which failed to make it clear a new supermarket was on the cards which prompted Bristol City Council to write to the Department for Communities and Local Government. Along with the London Assembly, they have called for a new “supermarket” classification in planning law.

 

At present, express supermarkets come under the ‘A1’ classification which can cover any type of retail outlet – a vintage clothes shop, a hairdressing salon, even an undertaker.

 

The impact a new supermarket can have on an area, such as frequent deliveries from heavy goods vehicles, should put Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and the like, in a class of their own, say campaigners.

 

Bristol councillor Alex Woodman said: “What we’re asking the government to do is refine the A1 class so that it distinguishes between, say, small local independent retailers and national chain stores, where the impact on the local area is potentially more significant.”

 

He told BBC Radio 4’s The Report that had his committee known about Tesco’s interest, they would have given more consideration to the potential impact the store would have on the local area.

 

“Because we didn’t know that at the time, the council wasn’t able to consider the impacts and we were in a situation where planning permission was granted without any thought being given to them,” he said.

 

Claire Milne, co-ordinator of the No Tesco in Stokes Croft campaign, believes Tesco deliberately kept quiet about its intentions.

“We know from various people in the community that Tesco have been looking in this area for at least a few years,” she said.

 

But Tesco’s head of property communications, Michael Kissman, says there was nothing underhand in the way Tesco went about setting up in Stokes Croft.

 

He said the original planning application was put in by the administrators of a comedy club, who were struggling to find someone to take over the property.

 

“They were clear that the purpose of its change of use was to make it more marketable to future occupiers,” he said.

 

Still a comedy club then Mr Kissman?

 

 

Deal…?

 

On 10th October four supermarkets were fined a total of £50 million for price fixing a range of essential household dairy products including milk and cheese. Imagine a cartel of solicitors had tried the same trick with their clients?

 

John Fingleton, Chief Executive of the Office of Fair Trading commented:

 

“This decision sends a strong signal to supermarkets and other businesses that the OFT will take action and impose significant fines where it uncovers anti-competitive behaviour.”

 

The original sum sought was £115 million but the companies involved did a deal with the regulator

 

One wonders if the OFT will cast its eye over the newly emerging legal services providers to determine whether their behaviour flouts competition legislation…

 

‘Caveat emptor’ – what next for access to justice in the UK now that the sale of law firms has started?

What price justice? What price fairness? What price independent legal advice?

 

Perhaps a better question is what value should we place on qualified legal advice delivered by independent, professionally qualified and rigorously (in this country at least) regulated solicitors.

 

We think it’s a question worth asking because the legal services market in the UK is on the threshold of a major shake up, the ramifications of which can only be guessed at…but actually we don’t need to guess, because the future of legal services is currently being shaped by a few key players in the US.

  

Attention all UK solicitors:

  

Legalzoom, the nemesis of US law firms  and Rocket Lawyer, have a lot of money, a lot of entrepreneurial flair and a lot of ambition. They are coming to a market near us soon.

 

They are going to ‘eat our lunch’ and it ain’t gonna be pretty, no siree Bob.

 

Make no mistake – they have no qualms whatsoever (and why should they?) about carving themselves a nice slice of the UK legal services market. 

 

So who should care?

 

Solicitors, obviously…but who really cares about solicitors other than other solicitors?

 

Actually our clients do, that’s who…and here’s why.

 

If independent solicitors wither on the vine and die off, then access to justice will be the real casualty and the British public will be the real victims – not the beneficiaries….caveat emptor!! 

 

Before it’s too late, independent solicitors need to get on the front foot and fast on this issue. If the British public isn’t to be hoodwinked into believing that the brave new world of ‘anyone can do legal stuff’ is a good thing, solicitors, the people with the knowledge and the tradition of ethical, professional service – ABSOLUTELY MUST GET THEIR MESSAGE ACROSS.

 

…and as for the anticipated legal services invasion from across the pond; well, ‘grow a pair’ and prepare to fight for survival.

 

Nobody owes us a living but we owe it to our clients to stay in business and defend their legal rights.

 

What price strategies for the survival and growth of independent solicitors?

 

We think that developing a new way of thinking about the business of being in business as a lawyer is the only alternative to Alternative Business Structures…

 

We intend to be around for a long time yet and we hope you do too.