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According to a provisional report prepared by Lord Justice Briggs, Chancery Division Masters are spending 14% of their time on professional negligence claims involving solicitors compared to 13% on business fraud cases.
Claims against other professionals account for only 6% of the Masters' workload. This is made up of 3% on claims against surveyors and estate agents, 1% on claims against accountants and 2% on all other negligence claims against professionals. Clearly, claims against negligent solicitors remain popular.
Now that we are into the last quarter of 2013, it is interesting to review whether the above statistics reflect the practice of professional negligence lawyers. In my opinion, property related professional negligence claims and claims against solicitors will always feature most prominently, especially after a recession. However, the other trends that I have noticed this year in our professional negligence practice are:
The biggest challenges in professional negligence claims, particularly tax and related claims and those claims that arise from the economic crisis, are causation and limitation. In respect of causation, Claimants often struggle to demonstrate how they would have acted if the correct advice had been given. Even then, Claimants can be heavily reliant on expensive expert evidence, especially in finance and property related claims. As for limitation, many Claimants (particularly in finance and property related claims) are leaving it too late to issue court proceedings in respect of breaches that occurred before the financial collapse in 2008.
It is unlikely that professional negligence claims will slow down in 2014. My view is that a review of the time being spent by Chancery Masters and Judges next year will probably highlight that these claims remain popular for Claimants, although for the reasons explained above it would not surprise me if there is a small increase in tax related and finance related claims.
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