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Title: Are these solicitors acting in my best interests?

Date: 12 October 2011

Question

I have read a lot in the papers about the Government banning the payment of referral fees in personal injury claims. I have a claim going on and am concerned that my case was simply sold to the firm which is acting for me. How do I know they are protecting my interests?

David Keeling, Kent

Answer

You are correct that referral fees are to be banned. Referral fees are payments made by solicitors to insurance companies or brokers for each injury claim referred to the solicitors firm by the insurer. Effectively when someone has an accident their details are passed on to the solicitors firm on the insurer’s panel and the firm contacts the injured party informing them they have been instructed to act for them. It can often be the case that the insurer does not care about the expertise of the firm instructed rather which firm is willing to pay the most for each case. It is widely known that referral fees can exceed £800 plus VAT per case referred.

One recent example of a very serious injuries case I took on involved the client being referred to a panel firm which then wrote to the client and amongst other things asked him if he was wearing his seatbelt. Clearly that did not fill him with confidence hence he chose to exercise his right of freedom of choice of solicitor by instructing my firm.

In relation to protecting your interests a solicitor has a duty to act in his client’s best interests subject to his overriding duty owed to the court (for example in not misleading the court). As such your interests should be protected although whether you are receiving the best advice from a specialist is rather dependent upon which firm has been appointed to act. My experience of the many panel firms is not that favourable, hence we take over a lot of work from those firms.

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