2020-02-17
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When I want to make a claim against my legal expense insurance, do I need to use one of the insurer’s panel solicitors?

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Posted by Susan Hopcraft on 13 May 2015

Susan Hopcraft Partner

You may be surprised to hear that if you want to use any legal expenses insurance cover to help you fund a legal case, the insurer cannot force you to use a solicitor of their choice.

Different insurance companies will have different firms of solicitors on their panels who will have a range of services available to potential clients. The services that they offer may suit your needs but there are situations where your case may need particular expertise that an insurance panel solicitor firm does not have or you would like to work with a local solicitor. In these situations, we assist clients in exercising their own choice of solicitor.

In our disputes resolution department, we offer expertise in professional negligence, insurance disputes, corporate disputes, intellectual property, agriculture and sport. So for example, if you have a professional negligence dispute for which you are able to access legal expenses insurance cover then we may be in a position to offer you better expertise in the area than a panel solicitor.

Choosing a non-panel solicitor

When a situation first comes to light where you may want to access legal expenses cover then we can review your policy to see whether you have legal expenses cover and then check if your case will be covered under your policy. Typically, legal expenses cover may be on your home insurance policy, but can also be available via a credit card insurance policy.  This type of legal expense insurance is known as “before the event” or “BTE” insurance.

If we confirm that your insurance policy provides you with legal expenses cover and that the type of case is likely to be covered then you will need to notify your insurance company that you wish to make a claim. It is very important to act without delay. It is also important to remember that any cover available to you will be subject to the policy terms and limits so it is important that we have gone through these with you and that you understand the extent of your cover. 

We can then contact your insurer on your behalf setting out the reasons why you wish to use us and why that is a reasonable choice. Insurers might say that can appoint a solicitor of their choosing. This is not the case: you have the right to choose which solicitor acts on your behalf. 

With that said, insurers can rely on policy terms to restrict your cover to certain hourly rates or a cap on the solicitor fees. They can only do this as long as the restrictions do not effectively render your freedom to choose a solicitor meaningless. In other words, the restrictions cannot be set at such a rate that means you would be unable to obtain a solicitor of your choice.

We can usually address any of these points. Further correspondence with your insurer would include an agreement on our fees, a costs budget and a report on the case based on the information we have at that stage. 

Conclusion

Although there may be no question that a panel solicitor is capable of representing you in many circumstances, the position is clear that where an insurer provides general insurance and legal expenses insurance, then it must also provide the freedom for you to choose your own solicitor. If you are happy with your insurer’s choice then that is fine. Whoever acts for you, you should be fully confident that they are going to represent your best interests. However, if you prefer to choose your own solicitor for whatever reason, then you should not allow your insurer to tell you that you must accept their choice.

About the author

Susan is a disputes and professional negligence lawyer, mainly in the financial services sector.

Susan Hopcraft

Susan is a disputes and professional negligence lawyer, mainly in the financial services sector.

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