The Law Gazette
The number of professional negligence claims against law firms in the High Court has almost halved in a year, data compiled by City firm RPC reveal today.
But the firm warned of a large amount of potential litigation in the background.
The drop to 221 cases in 2015 down from 418 the year before is largely due to a fall in the number of claims emanating from the financial crisis, as time has run out to pursue the majority of ‘credit crunch’ claims.
But property or conveyancing disputes over subprime mortgages from the financial crisis could still spark more claims against solicitors who assisted their clients in buying properties at inflated values, the firm said.
RPC said many of these cases have been frozen under ‘standstill agreements’ – which means that the official figures may not be an entirely reliable indication of a drop in claims against solicitors.
The drop also comes after the number of negligence claims jumped by a third in 2014, meaning that the 221 negligence claims brought against solicitors in the last year is still more up 55% on the 143 cases brought in 2012/13.
Joe Bryant, a partner at RPC, said the fall in claims does not mean solicitors have seen the back of recession-related claims yet.
‘A large number of property and conveyancing cases are still sitting there dormant for now, whilst the claimants and their legal teams accumulate the evidence they need to bring their cases in front of a court,’ he said.
‘Due to the volume of claims that institutional lenders have pursued against solicitors and valuers since the recession began, we have seen a significant number of requests for these agreements over the past year or so, as claimants have struggled to get all of their claims up and running within time.’
According to RPC, the majority of claims against solicitors over the past year have come from women disappointed with their divorce settlements, or have emerged from litigation using ‘no win, no fee’ agreements.
Bryant added: ‘These cases are being brought on an industrial scale, on the back of carefully targeted advertising campaigns to bring the claimants through the door.’
‘Given that the court rules don’t require the loser to pay the winner’s legal costs until the matter reaches formal litigation, firms are launching into often spurious scatter-gun cases without starting court proceedings, purely in the hope of getting a low “nuisance” payment, free of any down-side if they fail.’