Both the Law Society and the Bar Council and very many individual lawyers from both professions have provided considerable support to Lord Woolf and his team in the last two years and have welcomed the main thrust of his proposals.
The profession knows very well that the interests of clients must come first and that changes which will make access to the civil justice system easier and achieve results in cases more quickly and cheaply, are both necessary and to be welcomed.
Many firms of solicitors are already operating in a streamlined, client- oriented way in their litigation practices and many, too, are encouraging clients in appropriate cases to use mediation, arbitration, ombudsmen and other ADR routes to settle their disputes.
Lord Woolf is particularly concerned to enable ordinary citizens and small businesses to have an affordable, speedy and fair chance of pursuing or defending a claim, even against well-resourced opponents. The system of fixed costs on the fast track could play a major part in achieving this, provided those fixed costs are set at a fair and workable level, after proper piloting and testing of the new procedures.
If Lord Woolf is right and much of the fear of litigation, especially exposure to uncertain costs, is removed, his reforms could well produce more work for lawyers. This is already happening in personal injury and insolvency work, following the introduction of conditional fees a year ago. In Germany, where a fixed costs system has been operating for many years and many citizens have legal expenses insurance, the amount of litigation per head is seven times that of this country.
Solicitors should view the new post-Woolf litigation landscape positively as an opportunity to offer clients a better service.
The Law Society
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