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It’s a welcome development, recently announced in the Law Gazette, that ABI members and various claimant firms have already signed up to an ongoing protocol adding flexibility to the way claims are handled at this time. A similar agreement has been made between the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers and Forum of Insurance Lawyers.
So what options are there for injury lawyers in the lock-down era? It seems that many lawyers, claimants and experts are discovering that video-conferencing can work well, when we all try. Even a standard smartphone will (when positioned properly) handle a decent video-conference and when we add proper webcams, microphones and a decent computer to the mix, the results can be most impressive. My own top tips are :
There are now several guides to conducting a successful conference, settlement meeting, mediation or even trial using available technology, Andrew King of Lennons Solicitors has even written a short book about it, following his experience of a trial.
But the reality remains that often the worst tech is not that of the solicitor, counsel, client or expert – but the court itself. The MOJ has not invested in courtroom technology and the results are painfully obvious. Not that long ago a court with a working DVD player was optimistic.
Few courts have accessible wifi; the broadband connection is haphazard; the judges often have access to laptops not up to the job. Some courts have a current active policy not to deal with matters other than those designated as ‘urgent’.
As a consequence, remote ADR is becoming increasingly popular. At Hardwicke, even before the current pandemic, we dealt with many clients who are immobile or are based abroad or for whatever reason a face-to-face meeting is impractical, costly or just un-necessary.
Experts, whether medical or non-medical are finding ways around the non-contact rules. Video-assessments not requiring hands-on physical examination, can work in a broad range of cases, even if they may need to be followed up later. Care/OT assessments can certainly be dealt with remotely.
Those of us who act as mediators are familiar with mediating disputes where the parties and lawyers are not actually in the room. Senior members of chambers, many of who sit in part-time judicial posts, offer Early Neutral Evaluations of claims and specific issues.
All of this interactive ADR can keep the litigation moving, perhaps even resolve some or all of it, and avoid the need for cases coming to a grinding halt while we await the MOJ’s medium term response to the current pandemic.
What we don’t yet know is – assuming the current restrictions are lifted in the medium term – whether the changes we are seeing in the way litigation is conducted, will herald real change in the sector. That is, perhaps, a subject for a different article.
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