Internet Newsletter for Lawyers
The Solicitors' (Advertising) Regulations 2002, which come into force on February 1, strictly limit the contents of advertisements for solicitors, and effectively ban personal injuries advertising.
While a solicitor may include the words "personal injuries" on his website, he may not refer to personal injuries claims nor the possible outcome of such claims, nor encourage anyone to make a personal injuries claim.
Phrases such as "no win no fee" or "free first consultation" will be banned, as will expressions like "most cases settle out of court", "insurance cover arranged to cover legal costs" or similar statements. Solicitors will also be forbidden to offer hospital or home visits.
Despite the restrictions, which were announced last October, many solicitors continue to offer these services.
The website of Connolly O'Neill solicitors of Ennis, Co Clare entitled "Ireland's accident and legal advice website", offers on-line advice "on a no obligation basis" and "at no cost to you in the event of you not proceeding with litigation".
A spokesman for Connolly O'Neill said: "We certainly will be bringing our website into full compliance with the Solicitors (Advertising) Regulations 2002, which we fully support. We intend to continue to provide `no win, no fee' accident claim services to impecunious accident victims for so long as the Irish government continues to fail to protect such accident victims by providing a proper system of civil legal aid." HJ Ward & Co of Greenmount House, Harold's Cross Road advertises itself as a Dublin-based firm which practises in the areas of road accidents and accidents at work. Its website, which was last updated in September 1997, offers information only on personal injuries.
David Walley and Co of Amiens Street in Dublin says he specialises in personal injury. A 2,000-word guide to the topic advises potential litigants that one of the first steps they should take after an accident is to "notify David Walley and Co Solicitors".
Spelman and Company of Main Street, Clondalkin, and Main Street, Finglas, proclaim on their personal injuries page: "Most cases taken on a 'no win, no fee' basis. Insurance protection available for opponents' legal costs."
Solicitor Sean O'Riordan of South Mall, Cork, also advertises: "Many solicitors and we ourselves act on a 'no foal, no fee basis'."
Norton Solicitors of Galway invites potential clients who have had an accident -- "at work, in the car, at an event, walking down the street" -- in the last three years to complete an accident claim form for a free assessment. The site offers a "no win, no fee" service for accident cases.
The website of Eugenia Murray & Company of Naas, Co Kildare, offers a free first consultation for accident claims and personal injury claims, and boasts that the majority of claims are "settled out of court with the highest awards."
The Irish Law site run by McInnes and Associates in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, proposes "no win, no fee arrangements for suitable cases", with "opponents' legal costs insurance protection available". The firm also offers "home and hospital visits."
Hunter McInnes replied as follows: "I had already discussed the need to update the site-it will be brought into compliance with new advertising rules. As a precautionary measure to avoid any problems I have today emailed Briefclick in the UK who maintain the site for me and asked Richard Arney to pull the offending page. The existing page was out of date anyway- I advised all existing PI clients in August of last year and the position is restated in my s68 compliance correspondence that provided my advice is followed and my instructions not withdrawn I will waiver any solicitor /client component to my professional fee (not including outlay). The only fee that I will recover is party/party from the defendant or their insurer- regardless of outcome-there is no uplift from the client's settlement cheque. Further, I have invited all insurance companies to deal directly on a without prejudice basis with a view to amicable settlement negotiations once proceedings are issued and served (to avoid statute problems)-nearly all have taken up the invitation-signifcantly reducing for the insurer the legal costs component of any claim brought on behalf of a client by the practice for compensation. The significant majority of cases are now handled in this manner."
Lynch and Partners of Clonmel, Co Tipperary offers "inexpensive insurance so that, if you should be unsuccessful with your case, you will not face a large legal bill".
Peter McDonnell and Associates, described as "a Dublin law firm which deals exclusively in plaintiff personal injury litigation", guarantees there will be "no fee payable to us unless our client's case is successful."
The Director General of the Law Society, Ken Murphy, said: "The new regulations have been widely published in the media and the Society's Gazette, so it is hard to believe that any solicitor would be unaware of them. Nevertheless, the Society's president, Geraldine Clarke, will write to every practising solicitor before February 1 with a copy of the regulations. Any advertising published after February 1 is subject to the new regime, and it is probable that that will be taken to apply to websites published prior to that date. The Society will not shirk its responsibility to apply the regulations fully from February 1."
Apart from the replies quoted, email or phone queries to the above firms went unanswered.
Kieron Wood is a journalist, barrister and author in Ireland. He is currently the senior assistant editor of Ireland's leading business, financial and political newspaper, the Sunday Business Post. He maintains a website at welcome.to/barrister.
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