Gary O’Brien, Chief Marketing Officer at Minster Law, explores the post-reforms characteristics that insurers should consider when selecting their next legal services partner.
The almost two-years that have elapsed since the introduction of the Civil Liability Act has made one thing abundantly clear - a volatile personal injury market has served to drive change at a level of acceleration never-before seen in the sector.
If we want some tangible evidence to support this view, we need look no further than the rapidly changing supplier landscape we now see emerging. At the time of its introduction, some 284 law firms registered as agents to the OIC portal. Fast-forward a little over 18 months and the latest OIC portal data shows that 83% of claims submitted are done so by just 12 firms. That’s quite the exodus, compounded further when you factor in that an increasing number of the more well-established PI law firms, specifically serving the insurance market, are now making their exit intentions clear.
It’s not the case that these firms didn’t appreciate the seismic impact reforms would have on their businesses. More likely, what lies at the heart of this issue is that these law firms have simply struggled to prepare for, and adapt to, the scale and nature of the changes that the reforms have brought about. As award-winning author and entrepreneur Seth Godin once said: “Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.”
The simple fact is that change is difficult – but even more so when that change is seen as unpalatable or perceived to make life harder, rather than easier. Many firms spent their time resisting the reforms, rather than preparing to adapt to them. Therefore, if adaptability is a critical capability in periods of significant change, the dye for some was already cast.
Perhaps even more telling is the irony that lies at the heart of adaptation – that the very conditions that make adapting so important, also create the uncertainty and fear which can cause a ‘falling back’ onto tried-and-tested practices of the past. In short, when the need to learn and change is at its greatest, there can be a tendency to default to what is familiar and more predictable – stifling innovation along the way.
Going to market to procure a new legal services partner is no small undertaking for any insurer. When you consider the multiplicity of other challenges they face right now, all demanding attention, resource and effort, it’s obvious that the process of procuring a new legal services partner is a decision they can ill-afford to get wrong. With the ripple effects of reforms still merrily making their way through the sector – the importance of getting it right first time, to avoid introducing further, unnecessary risks downstream, only increases.
But… as the dust settles on reforms, the reality of the ‘evolutionary leap’ required by law firms to not just survive but thrive in a post reforms world is hitting home, fuelling further consolidation and presenting insurers with a new question:
1 A Long-term View:
First and foremost, there needs to exist a genuine appetite to ‘go the journey’ to realise the long-term opportunity. Transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It’s iterative and requires fresh thinking, new skills, commitment and patience. Without a long-term vision, transformation gets starved of the resources and commitment required to make it happen.
2 Technology Investment:
Making it happen won’t come without the commitment of shareholders and crucially, the means to provide the ongoing capital investment required to succeed. Investment in areas such as cloud, replacing legacy platforms, API’s / integration services, low code/no code development, agile change execution, data & analytics and intelligent process management are high on the agenda – but these are long-term investment decisions that won’t garner shareholder support without buy-in and a clear route to value creation.
Law firms also need to have access to the cash required to fund longer settlement times. Whilst the reforms held much promise for customer in terms of swifter outcomes, the reality is that the average settlement duration for small claims has increased since introduction. Bottlenecks in the court system, the funding of complex, serious injury cases and the rising costs of just about everything else only adds further layers of cost pressure.
Whilst collaboration between some claimant firms and third-party insurers (as a route to removing delays in the claims process) is improving, the recent ABI appeal to the Supreme Court on the approach to valuing mixed injuries in small claims serves as a prime example of just how much friction is still inherent in the process. Friction is costly for all parties, but the ability to fund a case to reach a fair outcome for the customer is essential, come what may.
An often-overlooked aspect of business transformation is culture. Money and technology alone won’t create a win in their own right, not without a business culture that embraces continuous improvement and change as a route to success. We’ve all heard it before – change is made difficult because “our people are resistant to it”. I believe there is only one problem with this statement –it’s fundamentally untrue!
What is often interpreted as “resistance” is usually more about a negative reaction to how change is being implemented – rather than the change itself. Cultural change is about so much more than just communicating the need to change – it’s an unwavering commitment to visible leadership, continuous dialogue, active empowerment and establishing the behaviours, belief systems, abilities, understanding and intent to participate in and support change at every level and in every area of the business.
5 Strategic Mindset:
It could be argued that the reforms are helping to pave the way to an emerging and different status of personal injury legal services for insurers – as a ‘paid for’ claims service, funded through the provision of legal expenses insurance.
This tantalising idea offers a potential route to more strategically aligned partnerships between insurers and their appointed claimant law firms. There is a plethora of strategic priorities around which insurers and law firms can coalesce, such as customer experience, data and knowledge sharing, supply chain integration, market/customer/competitor insight, rethinking commercial and operational models, fraud prevention and regulatory/risk management – to name just a few!
Law firms should be actively seeking out opportunities to increase the currency of trust, transparency and proactivity with their insurer partners, helping to realise the mutual, untapped opportunities that exist in a post reforms world.
It would be natural to assume that the new dynamics of the personal injury market, brought about as a result of the 2021 reforms, are the exclusive concern of law firms. Through our collaboration with insurers, we are witnessing a fundamental shift in the evaluation criteria and procurement process – offering the potential to reset the foundations on the strategic nature of the relationship between claimant law firms and the insurance sector.