A quarterly Personal Injury sector update from. December

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1 A quarterly Personal Injury sector update from

2 Welcome Personal Injury risk outlook Market round-up Improving cash flow in industrial disease work Steve Arundale : Q & A

3 Welcome Welcome to Citadel Law s inaugural Insider update, designed to bring you the latest thinking and news on the personal injury market. Without question the personal injury market is undergoing seismic change: For some the future is exciting, with many gearing up their practices to take advantage of alternative business structures and new revenue streams driven by LASPO. For others, it s a period of introspection and ultimately, the end of the road for those who have been left flat-footed by market events that they thought would never become a reality. As a regulated personal injury consulting law firm, we have been working closely with PI firms to help drive innovation, insight and value throughout their workloads. Having also been instructed by banks, accountants and private investors as technical auditors of value and risk in PI firms, due diligence on caseload sale and acquisition and enhancement of systems to increase profit, we occupy an unique position in the market and offer real insight into what is happening in PI firms today. My personal injury risk outlook gives my assessment of the challenges facing the market in We are bang in the middle of turbulence that I personally find very concerning for law firms who we are well-placed to support. Many see closure as a fait accompli yet with specialist advice this may not be their only option. The LSB, SRA and Law Society must act immediately to assist the financial failures hitting our legal system and threatening clients who need to access specialist advice. Losing expert law firms like Harris Cartier that have pushed boundaries in obtaining justice for the most vulnerable in society and increasing patient care in our NHS is a sorry state of affairs. Are we to dumb down so much that those expert law firms will disappear and we do nothing to save them? At what cost to justice and our legal system? It is a system that is currently being redefined and in many respects extremely negatively and certainly not what I expected from the legal system I grew up in. The negative effect of insolvencies and interventions in terms of cost and public confidence must also be reduced. The answer must lie within the best lawyers supporting a legal system that is expert, client focused and commercial. 3

4 At Citadel Law we strive to assist our clients to achieve their goals under relentless sector pressure and many have moved into new areas of personal injury work in an attempt to make up for losses in revenue. One worrying trend we ve identified is the number of firms dabbling in industrial disease work as a way of shoring up their PI losses. Make no mistake, this is an area for experts only, as my colleagues, Moira Lythgoe, John Dunn and Emma Adams explain in their article on improving cash flow in industrial disease work. I m also pleased to welcome one of the UK s leading legal journalists, Neil Rose, editor of the excellent Legal Futures and Litigation Futures, who has contributed a personal injury market news roundup. We also have a not to be missed interview with Steve Arundale, head of professional sectors at NatWest who tells us that the days when lawyers were seen as copper-bottomed are long gone and that law firms can expect more robust questioning from banks in future. Finally, can I refer all those local to Manchester to the upcoming Manchester Law Society Conference on 9 it looks to be an informative event for senior partners and executives who are looking to drive their legal business forward in the face of intense challenge. I hope you find this an informative addition to your market reading and I welcome any ideas you have for our next edition in the New Year. If you would like to know more about our work please visit our website, me at telephone me on or follow me on Best wishes, Lesley Graves Managing Director and Solicitor Citadel Law 4

5 Personal Injury Risk Outlook 2014 Lesley Graves, MD and solicitor, Citadel Law The business of law has never been as fraught with so much uncertainty and financial instability as it is today. And it s not just law firms feeling the pain. The professional indemnity insurance (PII), accountancy, and banking and finance sectors have all shared the discomfort. Let our advance worrying become advanced thinking and planning. SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL ( ) With the impact of Jackson, PII and potential business failures challenging us, it s hard to envisage a silver lining. So what have we had to deal with? Legislative changes Implementation of the LASPO reforms on 1 April 2013, and all it signified to the business of personal injury litigation, now seems like a distant memory, such has been the events of recent months. The full extent of the financial consequences will take some time yet to play out. The impact of the Legal Services Act 2007 has led to deregulation and greater competition which has put unprecedented pressure on personal injury law firms in particular. For many it is too soon to make any predications as to who will survive or exit the market. Professional indemnity insurance crisis Pressure then hit the sector in June 2013 when Balva s licence was 5

6 Personal Injury Risk Outlook 2014 cont. withdrawn by Latvia s Financial and Capital Market Commission, just at the point when the PII renewal season was upon us. Most recently the crisis has been compounded by the exit of Berliner from the market who were lined up to take the majority of Balva s book. All this has alerted law firms to just how important it is that their insurer is financially secure and able to meet its obligations. If it becomes clear that Balva will be unable to discharge its liabilities, then its liquidator will have a duty to present an insolvency petition. Should that happen, the 1,300 firms that hold Balva PII policies (Balva wrote around 7% of the solicitors PII market by premium share in 2012/13) will need to obtain alternative insurance within a matter of weeks. At the time of writing this piece it remains to be seen how events will play out. If alternative insurance is not secured within 30 days of 1 October 2013, shutting the doors may be the only option (following a 30 day extended indemnity period and 60 day cessation period.) Business failure and financial crisis There have been many high profile professional service firm failures and not solely confined to the legal sector, with accountancy firms and alternative business structures also feeling their own pain. Co-op Legal Services was reported to have plunged into the red with a 3.4m loss in the first half of 2013, it being one of the first alternative business structures to have been granted a licence in March On 22 August RSM Tenon, the UK s tenth-biggest auditor by fee income, was put into administration with a reported 80.4m debt to Lloyds Banking Group, which is part owned by the taxpayer. The terms of the agreement with rival Baker Tilly, which has purchased RSM Tenon, are said to mean that Lloyds will not recover its secured debt in full. If this is correct, it is far from satisfactory for the taxpayer. What an ironic turn of events for law firm Challinors, with whom the SRA was working following reported debts of more than 11.2m RSM Tenon was appointed as its administrator. Following an orderly disposal of the business and protection of clients, both Challinors and RSM Tenon were put into administration on the same day. What will we be waking up to tomorrow? I am troubled by the risks emerging to law firms who look to banking, accountancy and regulatory support in the most challenging time the PI world has ever experienced. Sector attitudes to pre packs are changing, hardening in some camps and considered a retirement strategy in others. The position of unsecured creditors on insolvency and public confidence is on the agenda of senior thought leaders. If you ve not read Law Society Gazette editor Paul Rogerson s blog on this, I advise it. At this stage I give a nod to the aftershock some law firms felt following the collapse of the Axiom Legal Financing fund. This fund, which lent money to the legal sector (predominantly to those in personal injury and clinical negligence in the North West of England), went into receivership in February Many of the firms which had secured finance from the fund faced a quick financial death and plunged into administration. Others have had to refinance and find their way out of their debt to the 100m fund, now in the hands of receivers Grant Thornton. You can read about our work with a niche law firm crippled by the Axiom Fund whom we assisted back to financial health through mainstream banking with NatWest here. This is serious stuff indeed but I am heartened by robust personal injury litigators whom I have worked with for over 20 years who are rising to the challenges they face. However, we have a melting pot of risk on the boil that calls for an urgent rethink and refocus as to how key stakeholders in the legal sector operate and engage with each other to carry out some meaningful risk management. The availability of PII, together with its cost and certainty as to players longevity in the market, along with the continued support of banks, is all-important if law firms are to succeed. The full impact of the Jackson reforms is yet to crystallise in terms of reduced fee income expected in personal injury work; and with new entrants and high-profile catastrophes emerging almost weekly, the future for PI litigation remains unstable and insecure. SRA on red alert to the pressures within the PI sector Against a backdrop of law firm failures, actual and anticipated, the SRA is on red alert, acutely alive to the fact that the financial stability of PI firms is threatened more than that of firms carrying out other types of legal work. In considering client protection issues, the SRA also views the PI 6

7 Personal Injury Risk Outlook 2014 cont. claimant as a vulnerable consumer of legal services who requires protection. The SRA s current interest in the PI sector is not to be ignored. Financial stability of law firms is at the core of the SRA s Risk Outlook 2013, which for the first time sets out the regulator s view of the main risks to the public interest and the regulatory objectives. Everyone involved in the legal market should read the Risk Outlook. For law firms to succeed, we all must be aware that the professional management of a modern law firm, as well as being expert in the law, must have expertise in financial, risk and operational matters, together with plans to cope with the negative consequences of the unknown. Succeeding in the business of law today means developing a business with an operating model that may have not been considered necessary even only six months ago, such is the pace of change. Emerging risks I set up my consulting law firm in 2010 on the back of advising as a consultant in a high-profile law firm that went into administration. That firm was a multi-service practice that had previously been a top 200 law firm, with a significant PI caseload. A substantial number of industrial disease case settlements were being challenged in professional negligence, and whilst I was consulting in serious injury work, my review of PI cases, feeearners, supervision and case management meant that significant fail points were identified some clients were receiving poor legal advice, cases were at risk of under settlement and costs were not being maximised. These were a few of the many issues that the firm had to contend with. Sadly, for the law firm and the bank, shutting the doors was ultimately the only option and cases and staff were transferred to other firms. At that point, I anticipated, with regret, that what happened to that firm was unlikely to be an isolated incident. Thus, over the past three years, supporting the sector to improve operating models and reduce risk has been my key focus. Citadel Law s experience in that time chimes with the SRA s Risk Outlook agenda. What s on the horizon? In my discussions with the SRA and The Law Society, I see a thematic risk emerging of vulnerable clients and personal injury law firms at threat of financial instability which cannot be underestimated. If this is not tackled, we will see more highprofile law firm failures and headline-making professional negligence claims. The SRA is keen to ensure the earliest possible support is given to assist law firms in the hope that failure is not a fait accompli. This heralds a call to arms to law firm owners and their key stakeholders to prioritise constructive dialogue with regular risk assessments to ensure law firms do succeed and deliver optimum outcomes with robust evaluation based on personal injury expert risk analysis to underpin financial forecasts. We have seen from our personal injury caseloads, that if geared and risk assessed properly, with expert financial forecasts set, PI work can be highly profitable. With poor evaluation and advice the opposite has proved a harsh reality. How many PI law firm failures could have been saved with expert analysis at an earlier stage we will never know but, our work in the sector demonstrates a way for our profession to retain its strength in adversity. So what does this mean in practice? As part of the SRA s investigative work, they intend to look at management accounts and cash flow forecasts. If these are not available, the SRA may take an even closer look. Are law firms and banks working closely enough to ensure that capitalisation is sufficient and cash flow, risk strategy and horizon planning is robust under independent scrutiny? The SRA s focus on client protection will undoubtedly include vulnerable and seriously injured personal injury clients, who may not be able to judge the quality of legal expertise/service they are receiving. For law firms and their key stakeholders to avoid these issues of financial instability and with a focus on client protection, all must engage earlier and agree a strategy taking account of the SRA s Regulatory Risk Index. This index looks at the drivers of pressure and change on the sector in the context of current, emerging and potential risks. It is an extremely helpful tool to assist and I summarise some key extracts. 7

8 Personal Injury Risk Outlook 2014 cont. Financial difficulty, firm viability and structure, operational risks, competence fitness and propriety and poor standards of service or advice particularly where this involves vulnerable consumers are all within the SRA s sights and should be within the sights of all of those in the personal injury sector. A starting point By engaging with what the SRA has provided in the Risk Outlook, key stakeholders can begin to support law firms properly. Getting the right expertise around the table as a starting point, particularly if law firms find themselves in difficulty, is a top priority. Costs squeezing, new operating models, new entrants, financial pressure (I could go on) means that what may be on the horizon is risk assessed and planned for at the very least. I would urge the sector not to wait until firms are on a burning platform of distress and shutting the doors is the only realistic option. To embed risk management into our culture, we should consider the following: Looking to what is on the horizon in terms of decreased fee income in bulk work when Jackson truly kicks in law firms should consider whether they are ready for the end of pre-laspo work in terms of cash flow forecasting and capitalisation. Law firms should consider if they can satisfy all outcomes in terms of the quality, competence and timely manner of delivery of their legal services. Are law firms covered in terms of their PII in respect of the most serious injury and complex cases, i.e. those likely to achieve awards of 3m or more? Do they have insurance of 5/10/15m plus? Do external advisors, particularly counsel and costs lawyers, also have the right level of PII cover and the skills to support those cases? The direction law firms, their banks and professional indemnity insurers take now is crucial. They need to make plans, cover future scenarios and ensure sufficient capitalisation is available to cope with the unexpected. Ensuring that you have a competitive edge in a new era of delivery of legal services means failing to prepare for what may be around the corner is not an option. The personal injury sector sits within a 29.75billion legal industry. My focus is on influencing positive change in the sector and ensuring that the rights of injured people are protected by expert law firms with innovative business models that are profitable. So, if you are a law firm owner, a banker or insurance broker or underwriter, how are you going to embrace and engage with what is necessary right now to ensure you are in it for the long game? 8

9 Market Round-Up Neil Rose, editor, Legal Futures Neil Rose is the editor of LegalFutures.co.uk and LitigationFutures.co.uk The firms that have understood the need to combine their expertise with technology and are thriving as a result. It can be done. We are pleased to be working with Neil Rose, who will provide The Citadel Insider with a regular roundup of news in the personal injury sector. His insight and knowledge is crucial for all those who look to Legal Futures and Litigation Futures for an 'of the moment' expert view. As a legal journalist, I have a somewhat different perspective than practitioners. So I can say that the combination of the LASPO reforms and alternative business structures (ABSs) has been great. ABSs have come at just the right time for the PI sector according to new Legal Services Board research, they are making more of an impact in PI than any other area of law, with a 20% market share, evenly split between new entrants and existing law firms who converted. 9 When you look at the firms that are ABSs such as Slater & Gordon, Irwin Mitchell, NewLaw and Lyons Davidson as well as insurers like Admiral, Ageas and Budget, this is not a great surprise. And that s before Direct Line gets its ABS licence. The threats are all around. When you hear Churchill broadcasting a radio advert with the sole aim of promoting its legal advice helpline, rather than insurance, you know that things are changing fast, and

10 Market Round-Up cont. not just for PI. Slater & Gordon is an interesting one, blazing an acquisition trail most notably of late Fentons and starting a national advertising campaign to build awareness of its brand. These are exactly the tactics it used so effectively back home in Australia, and while obviously the market here is much bigger, they know what needs to be done. As anyone reading this newsletter will know, with most firms still working through their pre-april WIP, it is too early to judge the impact of the LASPO reforms as evidence of just how mad the panic was, Burford Capital (which now owns Firstassist) recently reported that in the first quarter of 2013 it wrote more ATE business (equating to exposure of about 100m) than it did in the whole of the previous two years combined. With the new protocols now in place, I have also seen a lot of activity around WIP sales as Simon Gibson of Liverpool law firm SGI Legal recently put it, the longer firms wait to make up their minds, the lower the value of that pre-april WIP (by happy coincidence, SGI used Citadel when buying the PI book of failed midlands law firm Challinors). Challinors collapse is yet another reminder of the fragility of many practices, and the SRA now has no fewer than 1,200 firms (11% of the total) on its financial stability watchlist, with more likely to join it soon. As if all that s happened isn t enough to destabilise firms, we ve had hundreds scrabbling around for professional indemnity insurance following the demise of Balva and retreat of potential new entrant Berliner. At the same time there are success stories, the firms that have understood the need to combine their expertise with technology and are thriving as a result. It can be done. For those still doing the work, the early signs are of a tougher judicial attitude towards non-compliance with the CPR and orders, as signified in the Court of Appeal ruling in the Plebgate case. The case a libel action brought by former cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell MP against The Sun over its reporting of the Plebgate affair saw the claimant s failure to comply with costs budgeting rules result in his budget being restricted to his court fees. On 27 November, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision and sent out a very strong message about compliance and that law firms need to have the capability to deal with their work and meet their deadlines. As for the referral fee ban, the market seems to have adapted. The SRA is seen as being more helpful than it has sometimes been in the past saying what you can do rather than just warning what you can t but most expect it to make an example of the first bigtime miscreant. The SRA has also been clear that despite parliamentary critics complaining that people are finding a way around the ban (or, from another point of view, simply complying with the law), it is not the regulator s job to enforce what has been described as the spirit of the ban. There is every sign that the change is not yet done, but one significant hurdle for claimant lawyers has been moved out of the way with the government s decision not increase the small claims limit for personal injury. Heavily influenced by the transport select committee report on the whiplash reforms which could not have been much better for claimant lawyers if they had written it themselves the Ministry of Justice has put the change on the backburner. Despite emphasising that it believes the limit should rise, but that the safeguards are not yet in place to do so, it is highly unlikely that anything will change this side of the 2015 election. Amid all the gloom, this has certainly cheered up the claimant community. Neil Rose, Editor of LegalFutures.co.uk Office:

11 Improving cash flow in industrial disease work As legal businesses adapt and evolve in the face of the challenges set by the Jackson era, new areas of work are being explored which may need a change of mind-set, as well as an upskilling of key fee-earners. John Dunn Moira Lythgoe One of those is industrial disease. Unfortunately what many firms fail to realise is that the process-driven approach typically applied to PI work is a world away from what is needed when it comes to assessing industrial disease. There is no one size fits all way of dealing with these complex cases, nor is there any substitute for experience and expertise. The risks of leaving industrial disease matters in the hands of feeearners with insufficient experience and expertise were infamously brought into sharp focus by the satellite litigation arising from the various miners scheme claims. It was found that the average general damages obtained under the miners scheme for vibration white finger and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease varied depending on which solicitors acted for the claimant. There were also issues with whether awards for being disadvantaged in the labour market known as Smith v Manchester awards were claimed, along with appropriate loss of earnings and services claims. Professional negligence claims have been settled against solicitors who dealt with these scheme cases but many more are still to be heard. The first of these cases to go to trial was Barnaby v Raleys Solicitors Emma Adams Lesley Graves 11

12 [2013] EW Misc 9 (CC) this summer. The claimant successfully sued for the loss of chance on the basis that he was not advised to pursue a services claim. Unfortunately this just goes to prove that law firm errors are all too common when it comes to industrial disease and we fear the situation is only going to get worse as more and more PI firms start to dabble in it. When working with law firms, there are a number of questions we ask at key stages to identify where their weaknesses are. Although not exhaustive, the most common are: Case selection and screening Do you know what questions to ask the potential claimant about onset and development of symptoms, employment history, systems of work, and why and in what circumstances they first believed that they may be suffering from an industrial disease? Do you really understand how best to deal with limitation issues? Limitation will potentially cause problems in almost every case. Get it wrong and you can be in trouble. To be cost effective, you need to be able to weed out the hopeless cases early on, and to identify the good cases that are worth spending time on. Investigation Can you identify a defendant to sue? Does the obvious defendant still exist? If not, is there anybody else against whom you can take action? Do you fully understand what action you have to take in order to maximise your client's prospects of success if the defendant is in receivership/ liquidation/bankruptcy or has ceased to exist? Can you identify the defendant s insurer? Do you know exactly what rights you have against an insurer if the defendant is in receivership/liquidation/ bankruptcy or has ceased to exist? Do you understand the limitations on those rights? Are you aware of the relevance of the TUPE regulations to this area of work? Beware as you may find yourself with an adverse costs order if you have issued proceedings against the wrong company. Evidence Do you fully understand the mechanism which has caused the disease? Do you know which documents you need to obtain and review at an early stage? Are you sure that your lay and expert evidence successfully and properly addresses all of the issues which will or can arise in the case? Do you have a full understanding of the issues of negligent/non-negligent damage? Are you confident that the breach of duty you are alleging has caused the damage for which you are claiming? Does your evidence give your client the best chance of maximising his or her compensation? Do you have sufficient understanding of the technical issues to know how these matters should be addressed? Do you know the difference between divisible and indivisible injuries? Do you know how this affects apportionment in an industrial disease claim? What we do At first glance these questions may appear basic but we see examples every day where this chain of thought has clearly not been applied, with some very serious consequences We apply a RAG rating system that we have developed to measure the levels of risk, value and opportunity within a caseload following a technical audit by a team of specialist solicitors. A sample cohort from a caseload will be selected so as to sufficiently test the cases and fee-earners, systems and process. Our views are tabulated on a RAG rating table and marked red, amber or green based upon key indicators of risk, value and opportunity. These are: Complexity, value, proportionality Prospects of success WIP recoverability (current WIP recordings) Future WIP opportunity Funding and retainer issues Appropriate hourly rates Risks of negligence Time and time again we are reminded of the importance of taking meaningful initial instructions from clients. Furthermore, witness statements should always be obtained at an early stage and any potential limitation issues must be dealt with in detail. Many cases fail because of poor early evidence gathering. 12

13 CASE STUDY A We were retained to carry out a diagnostic review on a national law firm s industrial disease caseload, around 80% of which was noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) cases. We were retained to advise on the risk and value within the caseload, including fee-earner capability, risk analysis, WIP recoverability and cash flow forecasts. The results are summarised in the table below: Diagnostic review for internal financial and technical analysis Diagnostic Review Large PI practice, more than 150 fee-earners and national profile ID department with substantial WIP lock-up and management concerns Sample from 512 cases (8% sampled) Caseload 14 months old WIP 535,000 Prospects - Unclear (less than 50%) % % % % - 12% - 80% plus - 0% 88% of WIP is RAG rated red and at risk of recovery Diagnostic Analysis Results: Five fee-earners all insufficiently experienced to deal with ID work. No work flows or adequate supervision. Case management and IT systems not geared to ID work types. Initial risk management and case selection poor. Cases generally had been under-investigated, meaning that urgent evidence-gathering was required to enable a view to be formed on prospects. As each month passed with inadequate systems, there were limitation issues that were on a burning platform of distress within these cases an endemic issue within NIHL cases. NIHL cases generally don't have prospects of success of 80% or above. To find any amongst the ones we audited would have been extremely rare in light of the fact that none of the fee-earners were sufficiently experienced in dealing with ID claims. Serious effect on WIP recovery and risk of negligence. As our diagnostic shows, in a relatively short period of time, substantial WIP had been generated and only 12% of these cases had real prospects. The majority of cases, i.e. 88% were in the RAG rated red groups of WIP that had very limited prospects of success due to being in unskilled hands. The effect on the practice was substantial and was ameliorated by our audit and recommendations. 13

14 CASE STUDY B We were retained to carry out a due diligence diagnostic review on a law firm s industrial disease and serious personal injury caseload for the purposes of bank funding with NatWest to replace Axiom Legal Financing Fund. This unregulated fund provided finance to many law firms, and was suspended from trading in October 2012 and then went into receivership in February We were retained to advise the law firm and bank on the risk and value within the personal injury caseload, including quality of referrals, fee-earner capability, risk analysis, WIP recoverability and cash flow forecasts. The results are summarised in the table below: Diagnostic review for bank lend to replace Axiom fund Diagnostic Review Diagnostic review of 292 cases with carrying WIP value 1,199, , WIP reviewed represents 11.07% of total WIP Mature department trading more than five years in niche and small PI practice Caseload managed by two senior solicitors with junior members of staff assisting Complex PI with ID bias (mesothelioma and asbestosis prominent and some NIHL) All multi track work self generated by law firm Prospects % % % % - 80% plus % Reports & Recommendations An extremely well managed and risk assessed caseload excellent client care and technical expertise. Healthy channel of cases moving from high risk on liability to admitted and settled. Focus on reducing risky red cases quicker to channel into amber/green as soon as possible. Risk/reward = higher hourly rates (a caseload not for the non-specialist). Recommended higher hourly rates and less use of external support so as to retain profit. Several cases had slipped through the net and senior partners took control following review. Lend approved with mainstream banking and law firm s finances turned around and heading towards financial stability. Had this law firm had sector specialist advice in the first instance the financial health of the law firm could have been in much better shape. 14

15 Expert technical and costs analysis is key to cash flow In Case Study A, the inexperience in dealing with industrial disease ultimately resulted in a WIP write of almost 50%. This was a bitter pill to swallow for the firm as it had also paid per case in acquisition and sign up costs. The WIP value was far more robust under scrutiny. Plugging the risk gaps at this early stage meant the department could proceed from a sounder platform and with cash flow forecasts that had meaningful value. In Case Study B, a small two-partner practice with high levels of expertise illustrated how WIP had been grossly undervalued and poor external advisors including accountants, barristers and costs lawyers had failed to support maximum fee recovery for the business. There is no quick fix to speeding up and maximising cash flow in PI work unless you have the correct technical and costs expertise around the table. Our work in both firms involved the expertise of Moira Lythgoe, John Dunn, Emma Adams and Lesley Graves. Working closely with our law firm clients, we improved business performance, including strategic planning of their cases and provided immediate impact on cash flow. Industrial disease litigation can be an interesting and rewarding area of work but it is not an area for nonspecialists to dabble in. Get any of the above wrong and you could well end up spending more time dealing with your professional indemnity insurers then you ever did running your industrial claims. Moira Lythgoe and John Dunn are industrial disease specialist solicitors at Citadel Law and between them have more than 50 years experience in handling complex industrial disease caseloads. Emma Adams is a personal injury and costs specialist at Citadel Law with over 15 years experience dealing with both claimant and defendant matters. Comment from Lesley Graves The visuals in the two case studies provide a startling insight into a law firm s expertise and risk management. As law firm owners, banks, professional indemnity and insurance underwriters and the SRA take a deeper look into how personal injury caseloads are run, ensuring you have an expert and robust WIP valuation and expertise and process to underpin legal services, can mean the difference between failure and success. For information on Personal Injury law firm and caseload diagnostic reviews please contact: Lesley Graves: John Dunn: 15

16 Steve Arundale: Q & A Head of Professional Sectors & Financial Institutions, NatWest Steve Arundale is Head of Professional Sectors & Financial Institutions at NatWest If there is a funding requirement to be taken against WIP and debt, instructing the likes of Citadel to undertake due diligence on your caseload will improve your ability to win the finance you need. Each issue The Citadel Insider will commission Neil Rose to interview a key specialist in the personal injury field for an independent expert view. As banking relationships underpin all in the sector, we could not think of anyone better to start with than Steve Arundale of NatWest. Where is NatWest s current policy towards PI firms? We are reasonably comfortable with PI firms. We find they are run in a more business-like manner than many other practices. They track and budget performance against meaningful management data, and so are able to adjust their business models more quickly which is particularly useful given the challenges in the sector right now. Pre-LASPO work is still generating 16 cash, but we will look more closely if a firm wants to get out of PI. PI firms have a greater appetite for debt than others and so we would need to be sure that their debt profile reduces in line with the runoff. I m more concerned about the high street firm that does a bit of PI. Such firms tend to look at their finances on a consolidated basis and thus don t realise the impact shutting down the PI department could have. They may lose 20% of their income but then don t move

17 Steve Arundale: Q & A cont. quickly enough to rebalance that by reducing overheads. I do also worry about how things will be this time next year when that pre-laspo work is tailing off. At the same time, I can t see that demand for representation will disappear; there will still need to be a supply. Plus lots of firms are looking at improving their efficiency. All banks will be a little more robust in their questioning gone are the days when all lawyers were seen as copper-bottomed but overall, if you are a well-run business that is open with us, we ll support you. What more could PI firms do? I don t see enough requests for investment in infrastructure. We encourage people to become more efficient and will invest in it too. People want to borrow money for mergers or marketing, but not to buy new systems. Some fund this out of profit when we could help. If there is a funding requirement to be taken against WIP and debt, instructing the likes of Citadel to undertake due diligence on your caseload will improve your ability to win the finance you need. What would be the impact of raising the small claims limit? It could have a radical effect quite quickly, especially on those firms that do volume RTA work on the basis that they will also pick up serious injury claims from time to time. That will disappear if the limit goes up. How about the insurer/law firm joint ventures? They are definitely a threat because it is all about that first contact with the consumer. There clearly needs to be an effort to educate consumers. I do wonder about offering inducements such as an ipad or cash up-front, however. Does that really promote the value of using an independent solicitor? Do you expect to see more highprofile failures? Happily we have not been directly involved in any of them to date we must be doing something right! Some lawyers may think they can handle situations on their own, when in fact they would benefit by bringing in external advice more quickly. Maybe if Cobbetts had done that, for example, it may have been able to re-negotiate with suppliers and avoided a painful collapse. Cobbetts didn t fail because it wasn t a profitable firm; it failed because it didn t have enough cash to service its liabilities and in the main that was its overheads. Too often there is a mismatch between cash with profit. In lots of the benchmarking reports we see, all the benchmarks are related to profit and, of course, that is a very simple way of measuring the performance of the firm but not necessarily its financial viability. Are you considering the cash available to service your drawings policy? Or to cover tax and VAT? Are you considering the cash available to service your borrowings and more importantly, are you thinking about what cash you have available in order to grow your business? If you re hugely profitable, your creditors will be asking why you can t pay their bill. Solicitors need to be more upfront with their creditors. Likewise in terms of debtors, it may be advisable to get them to pay more regularly than perhaps they have been up to this point. One firm I dealt with only sent out their invoices twice a year; you can imagine what their debt position was and what their cash profile looked like. The SRA is broadly taking the right approach to assess the financial stability of firms you need to look at the metrics but also other indicators. Do you get your professional indemnity cover from an unrated insurer? If so, there s a probably a reason for that. Steve Arundale, Head of Professional Sectors & Financial Institutions. Office:

18 Services For You We understand and appreciate the commercial pressures facing the personal injury sector. As a specialist consulting law firm with a dedicated team of experienced senior solicitors and experts in personal injury, industrial disease and clinical negligence, we can offer a unique legal support service from as little as 500 per month. For this, we can provide you with advice and assistance on business strategy and financial planning and case planning, including: Growth or exit strategies in PI work to maximise return on investment Costs and cash flow forecasts WIP valuation Case screening and risk assessment Recommendations on sector specific specialists including medical agencies, experts, accountants, costs lawyers, counsel Technical expertise on caseloads and strategy to maximise performance Case management systems evaluation Work flows and precedent documents Case planning and strategy Hourly rate reviews, maximising costs recovery, costs budgeting and management All clients receive an initial one day investment meeting free of charge at the start of any new Support Service Agreement. Services are offered on a project or monthly retained basis. Clients can receive: Direct access to the Citadel team of PI experts by e mail, telephone and in person Benchmarking and evaluation of your expertise The benefit of our close working relationships with sector specialist advisors in business and finance Dedicated support at our offices in Manchester, London or client office A monthly report of support received and recommendations on strategy to improve performance CPD accredited training 20% discount on any additional days or projects outside a Support Service Agreement If you would like a free, no obligation chat about how Citadel Support Services can help you, please call Lesley Graves on

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