Hudgell Solicitors recently announced a management restructure of the business, appointing highly-experienced litigator Amanda Stevens to the role of chief executive, who will be instrumental in shaping the future of the business in the wake of forthcoming industry changes, alongside managing director Neil Hudgell.
Here, Amanda and Neil discuss the reasons for the changes within the business, their expectations for the claims industry, and ambitions for further growth as a Top UK 150 firm.
Neil, you have announced a restructure of the business this week with Amanda Stevens now in the role of chief executive. Can you explain the thinking behind the changes, how they have come about and how Amanda was identified for this role?
NH: The only constant in our industry is change, and we need to be agile to that change and everything that is coming on the horizon. Amanda has a history of being at many of the top tables when strategy and direction for the profession is explored, not only within the firms she has worked at but also on highly influential legal steering groups, committees and associations. I wanted to bring that experience to the head of our business so we can stay fleet of foot at the front of change and continue to progress.
Amanda, how does it feel to be given this new role and what are your personal goals?
AS: From my first meeting with Neil I knew it would be an exciting adventure as I could see he was extremely pro-active and determined about the future success of his business. We’ve had a number of months to analyse what is happening within the industry, focus on our strengths and identify the opportunities to come up with a plan which also has the unanimous backing of the senior management team. I feel hugely excited and privileged to be asked to lead on that with Neil. My goal is ‘simple’, it is to help others deliver all we have set out to do on time and to enhance awareness externally of all that is special about what Hudgell Solicitors has to offer. We have a great story to tell.
You have personally won industry recognition for your influence on rehabilitation in the claims process, how important is developing this area of Hudgell Solicitors’ work?
AS: One of the things that attracted me to working with Neil and the team here was the priority they have always placed on early and influential rehabilitation for people suffering serious injury. It is already a strength of this firm but we are developing it further. A lot of lawyers talk about doing this, but when you scratch beneath the surface it amounts to little more than lip service. It is absolutely key going forwards that we continue to offer rehab and look for ways to enhance that service. We’ve recently produced a detailed Rehabilitation Handbook for injured people and their families as an extra resource, identifying where they can get vital support immediately after suffering an injury, when leaving hospital, and in the long term. It is part of our commitment to always see the person and not just the claim.
You’ve already mentioned big change ahead in the claims industry and that you are acting now to be fully prepared and grow. What are the key challenges for Hudgell Solicitors, and others in the claims industry, at such times of change?
AS: For me it’s about maintaining our core professional values of excellent service and being a trusted adviser to our clients whilst achieving affordability and accessibility in an increasingly crowded and constrained market.
NH: Yes, for me THE challenge is to do more for less without compromising quality.
With that in mind, what changes do you envisage across the claims industry between now and the reforms due in October 2018?
AS: The market is already showing signs of turbulence with a number of practices seeking to exit and lawyers seeking to move or skill up in different areas, so there is likely to be further consolidation of the market and, as with any time of change, there could be one or two new entrants on a different business model which could cause a further shake up. I hope any new entrants will bring a stimulus to the market, as they advertise the relevance of professional assistance with claims, rather than disrepute, after a short while, as has happened in earlier periods of reform of our sector.
NH: I’m not convinced we will have new entrants in any significant numbers. There will be leavers. Firms will jump into areas of work they don’t currently do in the same way they jumped into ID work, clinical negligence work, and, more recently holiday sickness. Recent press statements already suggests the writing is on the wall for that latter category.
You said in your statement regarding the restructure of the business that the changes and new strategy are about being ‘a beneficiary and not a victim’ of new regulations. What does this mean?
AS: Our lawyers have chosen to specialise in injury work, rather than more corporate types of law, and have done so because they care passionately about helping individuals and their families to get life back on track after completely unexpected and harmful events which could afflict any of us out of the blue. Caring about those people is what makes our staff want to get out of bed in the morning. If terms of the new regulations and pricing restrictions making the legal process more of an inhuman conveyor belt, we will be a “victim” of the reforms, because that is not a business model we would choose to adopt. Similarly, having to pull out of such work because changes have rendered it wholly uneconomic would clearly be a massive blow, and one we are seeking to protect ourselves from through our new strategy. Our goal is to use the experience we have gained from previous reforms, and many years of extremely high customer satisfaction ratings, to roll out a product line which is even more attractive to injured people and their families than what has gone before.
Neil, in the wake of the Jackson Reforms of 2013, many firms sold PI caseloads and Hudgell Solicitors has since completed 32 deals for cases and departments. Are you in a position to buy again or is it a case of being more cautious now given increases in the small claims limit and restrictions on the entitlement to claim for certain injury types?
NH: We sit on a fund to use if the right opportunity comes along. We have three active lines of discussion ongoing at the moment which I’m hoping fall over the line before the summer is out. Unless the price is right though we won’t do business, we will continue to develop our own referral arrangements and direct marketing initiatives.
Amanda, part of your responsibilities in your new role is developing and mentoring the talent currently within the business, just how important is?
AS: We set high standards of client care through our customer charter and as we move forward we are setting the highest standards for staff satisfaction and development within. A few people have helped me along the way, but traditionally law firms have had a mentality of ‘each to his own’, based on competition amongst individuals rather than collaboration. By finding out precisely how people would like to develop their career and then offering constructive feedback and support to help achieve transparent and realistic personal goals, our staff can grow and our business can be enhanced. I feel a happy and motivated workforce is key to all we hope to achieve together as a business.
Neil, how has Hudgell Solicitors changed over the past few years as a firm, and how has that influenced the new vision?
NH: We have a more defined process, greater efficiency across the business, and importantly we are now people led from within, adopting the ideas and energy of the people we employ and using them to provide a better service to our clients.
Where would you say Hudgell Solicitors is placed within the claims sector now, and where would you like the business to be in 18 months’ time given these changes?
NH: We are now firmly established as a UK Top 150 firm, growing various niche areas of the business whilst maintaining our core work areas. We are concentrating on cementing that position in a continually evolving market facing continued price squeezes and regulatory restrictions. In 18 months’ time we will hopefully be looking back at the changes we are making now and reflecting upon how we were right to take a step back, analyse all that we do, and change.
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