Let’s face it; lawyers are a distress purchase and one most people hope they never have to make.
When it comes to personal injury solicitors, you will have to look long and hard to find a scrap of public sympathy for the way they do business. And so the odds to secure any sort of balanced, mainstream press coverage in the debate about reducing legal fees in clinical negligence cases remains firmly stacked against the country’s law firms, just as it was in other areas of civil practice.
While some appear to have bought themselves a back-row seat to watch while the Government steams ahead with plans to introduce a cap on fees, others are drawing up the battle lines – ready to issue press releases and comment pieces that point out what such a cap could mean for genuine victims of negligence.
During a discussion about the future of fees, a leading clinical negligence expert told me today: “The public doesn’t care because they aren’t injured.”
And of course he is right. Until you’re the one left unable to work, or worse, by a hospital blunder, it is hard to find sympathy for people who charge for sending out a letter or picking up the phone.
Whether a cap is introduced on cases worth £100,000 or £250,000 doesn’t come close to registering as relevant to most people.
Perhaps the key from a PR perspective is to show the faces of those ‘normal’ people with modest claims who would nonetheless have been left in a bad way, and in a bad place, had a cap on fees been introduced.
People with genuine claims to make, worth only a ‘modest’ amount are the ones being unfairly labelled as choking the system through inflated legal costs. As the Guardian article above and pretty much every other report on this story has repeated ad nauseum, there have been instances of costs vastly outweighing the damages received.
But the claimant lobby’s mistake has been to engage in a debate led largely by contributors who apparently know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
Solicitors and their Legal PR advisers need to showcase the difference a £10,000 pay-out made to someone’s life and why it mattered. They need to present an emotional case for why access to justice matters to all of us. They need to present a human side to a Government plan which already seems to have the public’s sympathy.
Can lawyers ever expect to win the public argument? Probably not. But the people they have helped just might.
With a strong network of media contacts and in-depth knowledge of professional services, Christina advises a range of businesses and law firms on media and business development initiatives.