Want to know the secret of happiness? Want to know how to solve your financial problems, ensure the sun is always shining and have neighbours who smile all the time? It’s surprisingly easy. Just get yourself an injury in an accident that isn’t your fault. Any sort will do, although obviously the less serious the better because you wouldn’t want to be in any real pain or anything.
Maybe get knocked off a ladder (not a high one mind) or have a bit of a bash with another car that wasn’t looking at a junction (not a fast or busy one). It happens a lot apparently, and it not only makes you very happy, you get free money. I saw it in an advert, so it must be true.
Or not. A few years ago, when I was working for a national law firm that, naturally, earned a lot of its income from personal injury work, there wasn’t a week went by without somebody on TV or radio mocking claimant firm adverts.
They were right to do so, although legal marketing experts told me that making ads trying to appeal to notions of justice and fairness didn’t have the same conversion rates as constantly ramming cash inducements or ‘no win no fee’ messages down our throats. More fool us.
There’s been less of it about lately, but then last week Liverpool-based firm Hampson Hughes launched its new ad campaign, and it was just begging to be ridiculed. On Thursday, Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe on BBC1 duly obliged. You can see why for yourself: lots of absurdly happy people singing and dancing about with some indeterminate blue and yellow creatures seemingly unconcerned that they had not long ago suffered some sort of debilitating injury.
Have these people learned nothing from the ‘compensation culture’ scandal? As reported on Legal Futures, the firm argues that up-front payments are often needed because claims take time to settle, leaving people at a financial disadvantage. They insist only those with genuine injuries can benefit and not all qualify, but it’s no good refining the message on a website, the damage is done by the advert: ‘Two thousand pounds up front? Cool!’
This nauseating commercial comes hot on the heels of a similarly jaunty affair from First4lawyers in which tennis player Andrew Castle (an expert in personal injury claims, who knew?) and another crowd of terribly happy people claim ‘this is what justice feels like’ while jollying along to ‘I can’t fight this feeling’. Getting an injury must be a lot of fun.
If it were only my sensibilities being harmed by these ads I wouldn’t be complaining. I am quite happy to be upset, offended, wrong or whatever whenever. And I don’t want to deprive comedians of a rich seam of mickey-taking possibilities, but surely this sort of ‘money for nothing’ promotion is just how claimant lawyers got themselves into trouble in the first place?
Unfortunately, it’s not just the reputation of lawyers that is damaged by the trashing of the claimant industry by insurers, politicians and the press. Changes to the system may end up making it harder for those genuinely injured to make a claim, and those with anything less than arms and legs hanging off after an accident may be put off being tarred with the ‘money for nothing’ brush.
Believe it or not, personal injury lawyers do an important job and deserve to be held in slightly higher regard than they are. Quite a few of them don’t just process simple, uncomplicated, claims like whiplash suffered in a rear-end shunt (although apparently this never actually happens or at least isn’t at all painful). Often they are securing vital compensation for people who have suffered painful and debilitating or catastrophic injuries caused by accidents or by clinical negligence. Not so happy and jolly now.
It’s quite possible that First4lawyers and Hampson Hughes don’t give two figs about the reputation of personal injury lawyers as a whole, as long as they keep the work coming in. More worryingly, in times of austerity, it will be difficult to encourage consumers, even the most sophisticated, to choose the best lawyer for them, and not let their decision be skewed by the offer of a cash incentive.
Any suggestion of a reinvigorated ‘have a go’ culture won’t do any of us any favours, except the tabloid papers missing their daily outrage about £300,000 for slipping on a grape or £10,000 for falling off a broken chair. The injuries sustained are not important, someone nearly became a half millionaire after slipping on a grape!!! Two grand up front? Cool, I’ll have some of that.