Sunday, January 28, 2007

Internet security and the all important client feedback / contact process

One of the enormous benefits for any law firm in having a web site is the opportunity to secure new business directly from the Internet.

There is nothing quite like receiving a fantastic new case via an online feedback form or e-mail. This is even more satisfying when the case has come to you, not through advertising, pay per click or affiliate marketing, but simply directly from the FREE organic search listings on say Google or Yahoo etc.

The problem that we have as a law firm is that we are not particularly clued up on the necessary security that is required to run an effective online business. For example, our feedback forms are built in PHP and they are very very bog standard in their complexity despite looking quite snazzy on page.

We have had to learn very quickly about the key security issues associated with feedback forms, because in recent weeks our network of legal sites have been attacked by various forms of spam or viruses. We have received enormous levels of link comment spam and have also suffered from something known as PHP injection security breaches. We seem to have been targeted and have had to resolve the problem urgently and effectively.

We have hired programmers to build more secure feedback forms in PHP, that rely on additional security features including image verification. You will have come across this before and whilst the mechanism can be a nuisance, you can guarantee as much as possible to the site visitor and prospective clients, that the information they provide will be safe. You can also prevent robots from infiltrating the code in the way that we have recently encountered.

One of the most effective methods of securing your feedback forms, is to use CAPTCHA coding. You can introduce this without drastically amending your current PHP or equivalent forms and the programming can be extremely cheap.

Another problem that almost everybody on the Internet will come across, is that the moment you post an e-mail address, you can guarantee yourself significant numbers of spam communications, once your address has been harvested. The only way around this problem, is of course to not hyperlink your e-mail address and perhaps work around this by using an image of the text / address. Some businesses will quote "at" instead of using an @ sign. None of these workrounds are very helpful for the site visitors but what else can you do? Id sure like to know.

It would be great to hear from any other law firms that have encountered security problems and managed to overcome them.

We are learning fast, but you get the impression that in the online world, nothing is very secure for very long.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Personal Injury small claims limit - £2500?

For those not too well versed in the key issues within the personal injury market, this year could be quite interesting for one simple reason. The "small claims" limits for personal injury claims is currently being reviewed and is subject to quite an intense debate.

To give you a bit of background, in order to have an entitlement to costs you must firstly achieve damages for pain and suffering that exceed £1000. This is not a considerable amount of money and with an average two to three month period of pain and suffering fetching around £800 to £1250, its is fair to say that insurers probably pay out more than they would like at the lower end of the market.

It must however be said that the average claim for soft tissue injuries will usually involve a period of pain and suffering that extends beyond three months and one could generally expect damages in the region of £1500 to £2500. I would be confident in saying that around 60-70% of the claims that my particular firm deals with, fall into this category.

Now defendant insurers obviously are not happy at having to pay costs on what they consider to be moderate to minimal personal injury claims. They would much rather put the legal representative out of the loop completely and deal with the injured claimant a personal level. They argue that the claimant will end up with the same result with or without a solicitor and the whole process will be quicker, more efficient and ultimately more rewarding for the injured party.

This frankly is complete nonsense.

I have great knowledge of the workings of personal injury claims departments within insurance companies. I know personally many people who work in such departments and have done for quite a few years. To say that insurers will treat claimants "fairly" really is stretching it.

Defendant insurer departments have various techniques to ensure that they pay as little as possible to injured accident victims. Many claims departments work according to strict rules in terms of reducing the cost of claims and every payment is made, generally is very tightly controlled. A "reserve" is put on each file and the case handler is expected to settle the claim UNDER the value of the reserve. Severe bollockings are dished out in some cases if they fail. They also use computer software to "value" claims and there is little or no room for negotiation. That is of course unless you are legally represented. With such representation, if the offer is unfair, you have the right to sue.

The insurers would make mincemeat of your average member of the public in this particular environment. Whilst they wish to reduce costs and save time, from their point of view this can only happen by removing the role of the solicitor from the process.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) have made a recommendation that the small claims court limit for personal injury claim should rise to £5,000. To put this into perspective, this would take in all claims for moderate to severe soft tissue injuries, minor fractures such as wrist fractures uncomplicated arm fractures and even simple like breaks.

The DCA who are currently reviewing the personal injury process proposed a figure of £2500 as a compromise. Whilst this is much more reasonable than the rather ridiculous £5,000 suggested by the ABI, it is still far too high.

The figure of £2500 probably represents around 60% of the personal injury market. Many law firms would go out of business and there would be far less availability for legal representation. In addition to this, there would be extreme difficulties for claimants trying to recover appropriate damages should their case fall within the £2500 limit. The level of personal injury damages which has remained unchanged for many years at the lower end, would reduce still further and the only winners here would be the insurers.

The debate continues and I could go on forever about the benefits of retaining legal services even at the lower end of the personal injury market. This is a completely biased view but I have had many years of experience in dealing with insurer claims departments and they really do only have one objective. That is to save as much money as possible on each and every single claim that they deal with. I have no problem with insurers saving costs and trimming processes to meet objectives but what is at stake here is the issue of fairness and justice for individuals that have suffered an injury.

As you can always tell I feel quite strongly about this subject and will write further updates during the course of the year. If there are any personal injury practitioners out there or any insurer friendly practitioners /staff, I would welcome your informal views on this.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Celeb Big Brother

In my attempts to stay young and in tune with the "street" I have been watching Celeb BB.

I am completely smitten with Shilpa Shetty who is probably the coolest, most composed, beautiful asian lady I have ever seen.

She deserves better than the treatment dished out by the venomous Jade Goody.

Shame that Jade's career is now over - she had done pretty wellfor a thick lass after being labelled the BB pig a few years ago. I liked her robustness and she was a fine example of how brains dont always matter

Now though I think she will be thrown to the wolves

As for the delighful Shilpa - not sure how she will fare but I hope we see more of her.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Decent legal websites

Aa little birdy tells me that I received a mention from Delia Venables of via her monthly newsletter. In return Im happy to provide alink to probably one the best UK legal websites out there.

Its a site that covers everything under the sun that comes under the "legal" banner. Take a look if you have a moment

This got me thinking about other USEFUL rather than self serving legal websites. There aint that many in all fairness.

A few more candidates would be: - which is a great selection of links on similar lines to the venables project - the CLS FAQ pages are also pretty decent on the subjects covered - legal services commission website - the official CAB site has always been a good one for general info. No more than you would expect really - Not a bad selection of useful links. Looks a bit directory-ish but works well enough for general legal info

Most of the rest are selling something whether it be their own services, legal documents or google ads.

Any more worthy of a mention?