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News review of the year 2014

The year rounded off with a bit of Labour opposition electioneering and the promise of a LASPO review, but which headlines caught your eye in 2014? 

January

As 2014 began, analysts at legal consultant Jomati reported how 'merger fever' had taken over the sector in 2013. 28 deals amongst the top 100 firms had eclipsed the figures for 2012. Meanwhile, Parabis boss Tim Oliver predicts a big year for professional negligence solicitors in 2014 as he tells Solicitors' Journal that 'hopefully, the courts remember that they are there to administer justice rather than becoming too obsessed with beating up the legal profession." 

The Mesothelioma Bill is pushed through parliament to create a scheme to compensate victims unable to trace their insurers. Work and Pensions Minister Mike Penning is criticised for achieving terms which mean sufferers will receive only 75% of the compensation they would have if proceeding through the courts.

February 

Jackson continues to dominate debate as the Law Society Gazette quotes Mr Justice Ramsey vowing to 'change Jackson if necessary' and gather data on the effects of reform.

Meanwhile, the insurance industry launched a campaign aimed at challenging perceptions that it had exploited PI claims. The Association of British Insurers unveiled a new 'code of conduct' requiring policyholders to be made aware that they can appoint any lawyer they want.

March 

Some 250 Alternative Business Structure licences had been issued by the Solicitors Regulation Authority by March, when news that major insurers Allianz had Direct Line had entered this fast-evolving new market. 

In the same month another major player from the legal sector, Clyde & Co, launched an apprenticeship programme enabling youngsters to focus on catastrophic injury, disease and fraud work, while combining formal study with on-the-job learning.

April 

Justice Ramsey steps back from his January statement urging practitioners to delay their verdict on the Jackson reforms for 'five years'. Meanwhile, Former FOIL President Rod Evans tells the Westminster Legal Policy Form, that the industry 'does not have a clue what it's doing' after the Mitchell costs budgeting case decision suggests dozens of cases should have had sanctions applied. 

May 

Legal aid cuts continued to dominate headlines in May, with super-heavyweight figures from the government and judiciary pulling no punches.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is involved in a dispute with legal professionals over attempts to reduce legal aid spending and tighten rules on judicial review, according to the Daily Telegraph. A recent protest from barristers resulted in Grayling postponing legal aid spending cuts, although he remains committed to cutting spending on publicly funded legal services. 

Equally combative are the country's most senior judges, who have blamed legal aid cuts on a spike in unrepresented claimants, courtroom violence, extra litigation and higher costs.

The Judicial Executive Board - which includes the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, and the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson - suggests the Ministry of Justice's legal aid economies are actually resulting in higher costs and greater inefficiencies.

In another dramatic development, President of the Supreme Court Lord Neuberger also voiced fears over legal aid cuts. Lord Neuberger is quoted in The Lawyer as saying: "We are getting into a position where there is a serious risk of access of justice. There is no point giving people rights, whether human rights or civil rights or family rights, if they cannot enforce them through the courts."

June 

Aim-listed Fairpoint Group promises to expand Leeds headquartered Simpson Millar after completing its initial £9m deal, while Manchester's JMW reports a bump in revenues to just over £17m. 

John Spencer tells Solicitors Journal readers that personal injury lawyers 'must come together'. He highlights issues facing the sector including the Mesothelioma Bill, Asbestos in Schools and the Enteprise and Regulatory Reform Act as being key topics for the industry to fight against. 

July 

More private equity funding comes into the legal sector, this time with Cheshire-based industrial disease specialist Roberts Jackson picking up £15m in cash from NorthEdge Capital. Newcastle headquartered Ward Hadaway reports rising turnover to £33.7m with £16m of that coming from its personal injury practice. 

August 

The Association of Costs Lawyers (ACL) says it has received an unprecedented number of applications for its new training course, with 185 registrations to take the three year qualification, up from an average of 100 per annum before. 

West Country PI, property and corporate firm Foot Anstey posts 14% rise in revenues to £27.5m, while the recently merged Blake Morgan launches BL Claims Solicitors; a spin off brand for its personal injury and clinical negligence business. 

September 

APIL gives evidence to a parliamentary committee on the effects of the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism (SARAH) Bill, calling it a 'waste of parliamentary time'. The bill is aimed at allowing would-be heroes and volunteers to act without fear of being sued, but John Spencer tells MPs that Good Samaritans have nothing to fear from the current law.

A challenging year for Cooperative Legal Services produces a £5.1m loss for the firm, but Manchester-based Express Solicitors report a 21% increase in fee income to £8.7m in 2014. Meanwhile, Slater & Gordon makes a move in South Wales for Leo Abse & Cohen. 

October

The Lawyer's Top 200 firms' saw overall revenue break through the £20bn mark, and some significant mergers in the personal injury market complete including Neil Hudgell's acquisition of motorbike-mad Rapid Solicitors. 

November 

Lord Saatchi's Medical innovation Bill continues to grab headlines as the 'Stop the Saatchi Bill Alliance' tells the APIL conference in London that the legal profession 'hasn't woken up to the potential impact of this bill.' 

Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter calls for an early review of LASPO, saying it has 'pleased the government and, for the most part, the insurance industry, but did little for injured parties who lacked the means for seeking damages'. Commentators on the Law Society Gazette appear to enjoy reminding the Hammersmith MP that Labour was also responsible for a number of the reforms currently challenging the sector…

December 

Legal services outsourcing specialist Quindell sees its shares fall to 25p after a challenging year. The company's former CEO Rob Terry sells the majority of his shares. The Saatchi Bill is debated in the House of Lords, with clinicians overwhelmingly against the proposals suggesting the legislation would be a 'charter for quack doctors'.  Meanwhile, the 'Heroism Bill' survives an attempt in the House of Lords to have a key clause removed. Peers had sought to remove clauses in the bill that urge judges to consider whether defendants were acting for the benefit of society or acting heroically when deciding on liability