47% decrease in claims against solicitors - a false sense of security?
2015 saw a 47% decline in the number of professional negligence cases brought against solicitors in the High Court to 221, down significantly from 418 in 2014.
The all-time high in 2014 is thought to largely be due to the limitation period for many claims arising out of the financial crisis coming to an end, resulting in a flurry of claims being issued before becoming statute-barred. However, solicitors who advised during the financial crisis, particularly those connected with property and conveyancing disputes over subprime mortgages, aren’t out of hot water just yet. The 2015 figures are likely to have been distorted by an increase in the use of standstill agreements which provide claimants with additional time to investigate and formulate their claims.
However, it is not just solicitors practicing in the financial and property sectors who are being targeted by aggrieved former clients. There are an increasing number of claims being brought by ex-spouses against the solicitors who represented them in divorce settlements and convicted criminals against the criminal solicitors who failed to get them off the hook. The emergence of firms specialising in professional negligence actions against solicitors, coupled with improvements in legal software, has made it much cheaper and easier to pursue these types of professional negligence claims.
Whilst the 2015 figures can be viewed positively by legal professionals they must be taken with a pinch of salt and it remains to be seen if the decrease will continue in future years given the emergence of non-traditional types of claims above. In any event, the 2015 figures are still a substantial increase when considered against the fact that there were only 143 claims against solicitors in 2012.
This article first appeared in RPC’s Professional and Financial Risks blog and has been reproduced with their permission.