In another well-reasoned and open-minded piece in the Guardian, legal commentator Neil Rose has lent his support to legal services firms and personal injury specialists who are due to come under the scrutiny of Lord Young of Graffham. Or more specifically, their advertising is.
One thread of his argument is that compensation specialists act as a form of accessible marketing for those people who may be unaware that they could claim for an injury that has befallen them. It is obvious that lawyers who specialise in personal injury need to advertise more widely, Rose says, because, in the words of the Ministry of Justice’s committee on civil costs, “It is no surprise that PI lawyers spend a lot more on marketing than employment or divorce lawyers because such marketing can generate more new cases than in those other fields of law.”
Former Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer has been critical of Lord Young’s plans to curb marketing in this area of the legal sector, saying that Young is ‘focussing his attack on an area of the law that is already pretty well regulated.’
An advert in the UK must be, according to ASA guidelines, legal, honest, decent and truthful, and the regulations also contain a more vaguely worded provision requiring that an advert must be ‘socially responsible’ which is where both lobbies disagree.
Young seems to be arguing that advertising such services, which he claims are ‘incitement to litigate, not access to justice’ is indeed socially irresponsible; trying to force people who were content, if not blissful, in their ignorance and who were not going to hire a lawyer to fight their personal injury case for them.
Why injury lawyers need to advertise
On the other hand, Rose and the other members of the pro-compensation party say that it IS socially responsible to advertise these services. Many people, they say, are naïve in legal procedures or may not know where to start. They may have never needed a solicitor before and will need quick access to one. Personal injury companies, says the Legal Services Board, are merely vehicles by which PI lawyers can find the customers that would be looking for them anyway.
The nature of the advertising also comes in for criticism, especially the TV adverts which are ripe for TV comedians and YouTube’s bedroom satirists to get their teeth into. Okay, the adverts are unlikely to win a Palme d’Or at Cannes, but they serve their purpose well; they have to appeal to a wide audience and get their message across quickly and simply. And of course they’re shown on afternoon television – someone who has suffered devastating injuries in an accident at work, say, is unlikely to be anywhere else except in front of the TV, as much as they wish they weren’t.
Rose argues that this advertising is not ‘incitement to litigate’ at all, except in the area of road traffic accident injury, compensation claim numbers have remained the same for the last ten years.
The most salient point is perhaps this – let us not forget that in order to win compensation, the claimant has to have actually suffered an injury. So, Rose argues, even the most spirited anti-advertising argument falls flat. Advertising does not in itself create frivolous claims – if you aren’t hurt, you can’t win.