Saturday, 28 September 2013

Surviving Jackson edited by Jeff Zindani and Professor Regan

A book review by Adam Manning

Claimant personal injury lawyers have been in a kind of “phoney war” since 1st April 2013.  In the build up to the implementation of Jackson, there was a flurry of announcements, proposals and consultations about the nature of the reforms.  Then there was the publication of the rules.  There was dismay, if not to say anger, when the implications for clients and solicitors were recognised.

Law firms have closed down, people have been made redundant, lives have been drastically changed.

Then there were the final weeks leading up to 1st April 2013 and reviewing all one's files to ensure they were as ready as possible for the reforms. Hard hats were put on, air raid shelters built.

Yet the 1st April 2013, part of the Easter weekend so long ago now, came and went.  The sky did not fall in on our heads, no blazing mad bombers set the night on fire.  Do not be deceived. It is just a temporary reprieve whilst the reforms start to bite.  It is, in the words of this book, a window of opportunity.  Here we are told that it maybe twelve to eighteen months before the changes really start to make a substantial difference and in my view we’ve now had six months of that window already.

We are lucky as a profession to have this book to bring us to task and robustly pull us up to look at what we are doing.  I was excited by its contents but also felt I was being slapped, or at least tapped, quite hard with the reality of what was happening to the profession I had been a happy part of.

The first section is a clear, concise setting out of the nature of the reforms.  It is a superb outline of the new rules and worth reading either as an introduction or a source of consolidation of previous knowledge.  Professor Regan makes some interesting remarks about the success fees that claimant lawyers are learning to charge their clients.  Many firms are now charging these and have been surprised by how acceptable they seem to clients, by and large. Professor Regan's comments about the precise percentages involved are at variance, I would suggest, with the way most firms are setting the success fee.

There is also a very clear examination of costs budgeting which will be of great use to anyone needing further guidance. In practice this might be one of the more difficult parts of the new regime for lawyers to become accustomed to and this part by well known barrister Dr Mark Friston is particularly welcome.

Nick Jervis, of Samson Consulting, provides a section which optimistically sets out some ideas for marketing in our brave new world.  One of the themes implicit in the book is that the referral fee system has lead to lawyers being far too reliant on others to simply provide us with cases.  We must get back to marketing.  He provides a concentrated plan on how to do this and it is his focus on getting on with it and measuring the success or failure of different techniques that impressed me.

The current phoney war may lead to some of us thrusting our ostrich heads into the sand of a busy case load but Mr Zindani and his colleagues are keen to pull us up to smell the air and look ahead to the future out on the horizon.  Later sections look at business models and as the book suggests many, many lawyers will not be thinking about what plan their business follows or how they operate and what to do to adapt to the new world but will simply be trying to carry on regardless. 

A number of issues that any large change to the firm may raise are looked at. Some of the most important are the transition to the use of a (possibly new or updated) case management system and the personalities of the senior management of a law firm and how detrimental to the process of change in practice they can be.

The final section of this useful and timely book looks at how law firms are funded and the options available.  Stripping away some of the fantasies lawyers sometimes have about their businesses it was at this point that I had felt I had been slapped. Hard. With a large, cold fish.

Reviews shouldn’t, without any warning, provide spoilers and I will not do so.  Read this book and wake up from the phoney war and look ahead, with hope and clear guidance, to the challenges of the blitzkrieg heading our way.

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