Legal Market Round-up: October 2012

No comments, posted on October 30, 2012

Defamation cases down due to Leveson and privacy laws. Defamation cases fell by 15 per



cent in the past year due to the scrutiny of the media and an increasing use of privacy law, research suggests.

There were 71 defamation court cases in the 12 months up to 31 May 2012 – compared to 84 in the previous year.

The figures, compiled by legal researcher Sweet & Maxwell, show there is a lower appetite for risk among journalists, said David Price partner Korieh Duodu.

He said: “Phone hacking has put journalistic standards under the microscope like never before. Media companies are concerned that the phone hacking scandal could lead to the imposition of a statutory media standards regulator, and they are have made every effort to put their own houses in order to avoid this.

“That will mean a more conciliatory, less controversial approach and fewer defamation cases.”

The rise of injunctions, such as in the Ryan Giggs and John Terry cases, is another factor, said Duodu, with celebrities looking to “stamp out” negative stories before they are published.

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Call for ‘sanity’ on whiplash as claim numbers fall. Lawyers have called for a rethink on whiplash injury compensation after the government’s own figures showed that the number of claims fell by almost 24,000 last year.

Records uncovered by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) showed 547,405 claims for whiplash in 2011/12, compared with 571,111 in the previous year, a fall of 4.2%. APIL has also released the results of an independent survey, commissioned by the group, which show almost 40% of people with a whiplash injury have never claimed compensation for it.

The research appears as the government is expected to announce plans for new specialist medical panels to support improvements in the diagnosis of whiplash, and to increase from £1,000 to £5,000 the value up to which claims can be handled by the small claims court.

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Automatic fines ‘top of shopping list’ for SRA. The Solicitors Regulation Authority will call on the government for permission to impose on-the-spot fines for firms that fail to comply with regulatory deadlines.

Hundreds of firms are thought to have failed to submit nominations for compliance officers more than a month after a deadline of 31 July. The new compliance officers are expected to begin their roles on 1 January. At the SRA board meeting today, executive director Samantha Barrass said the regulator was likely to press the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Services Board for extra powers next year.

She said: ‘Top of our shopping list for secondary legislation change would be some capacity for automatic administrative fines as you would have if you don’t fill in your tax returns.’

The experience with compliance officer nominations, she added, would be used to mount the case for more straightforward fining powers. The SRA already has the power to issue a £2,000 fine for low-level misconduct, but only after a lengthy disciplinary process.

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Dickinson Dees and Bond Pearce in talks to create £92m firm. North East firm Dickinson Dees and South West firm Bond Pearce are discussing a potential merger which would catapult the combined firm into the UK’s top 40.

The firms confirmed the talks today. The news comes six months after Bond Pearce ended merger discussions with Scottish firm Maclay Murray & Spens, citing commercial reasons.

In a statement Dickinson Dees’ managing partner Jonathan Blair said: “Our strategies, cultures, sector capabilities and geographic footprints appear to be sufficiently complementary as to warrant consideration of whether, in a rapidly consolidating market, a merger of our two firms would facilitate the execution of their respective strategies.”

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From April 2013, the Government intends to introduce binding new rules on both the Health and Safety Executive and on local authorities, that will exempt hundreds of thousands of businesses from burdensome health and safety inspections. Businesses will only be inspected if they are operating in high risk areas, such as construction, or if they have a poor record. A change in the law in October 2012 will also be made so companies will only be liable for civil damages in health and safety cases if they can be shown to have acted negligently.

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How to be an excellent work experience student. It is probably safe to come out of my room. Throughout the summer we have had the usual crop of internees, work experience candidates and volunteers – call them what you will. They were all keen, pleasant, polite, and frighteningly intelligent and some even really impressive. Work experience is an extended interview if not for the firm, then for the profession. We are looking for personal qualities and the best students are not always the people from top schools or universities.

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Unique niche firm to use ABS status to take on larger competitors. The only UK law firm focusing exclusively on handling liability claims for self-insured companies has become the latest alternative business structure (ABS) and plans to use the status to help it take on larger competitors.

Strata Solicitors Limited, based in Northamptonshire, was founded in 2011 by Paul Davies, a solicitor, and Richard Fearn, an insurance professional, who has now become an owner of the practice. Both were previously at Leicester firm Harvey Ingram, Mr Davies as a partner and head of its Corclaim division and Mr Fearn a director.

Now with 48 staff, Strata seeks to combine the different training, experience and skills of lawyers and insurance professionals in acting for a small number of very large clients – its largest has a fleet of over 40,000 vehicles. Mr Davies said this is the firm’s unique offering to the market, arguing that other, larger players only pay lip service to combining legal and insurance skills in this way.

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Country’s largest multi-office firm eyes national expansion. Liverpool-headquartered Forster Dean, the largest multi-office practice in the country, is to establish a national high street presence, possibly with the aid of external investment, after a period of significant growth. Forster Dean, which handles only personal injury, conveyancing and industrial disease work and does not pay referral fees, already has 29 offices across the north-west and into the midlands, and plans to add 10 a year from 2013.

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Lawyers’ app allows on the spot injury claims. Scottish law firm Watermans has launched a smartphone app that allows accident victims to file compensation claims for injury immediately. The app lets victims of car crashes or workplace accidents attach photographs from the scene of the incident to their claims, along with witness statements and other supporting material.


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