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UK Union's favourite lawyers struck off by regulators

Editorial Staff

Beresfords, the law firm based in the UK's Midlands that became the favourite of the UK's Union movement for claims by employees against employers has been found to have been more interested in its own commercial interests than in acting in the best interests of its clients. Its partners have been struck off.

Beresfords was a relatively small firm in the late 1990s but it had great aspirations. This was the time when Midlands firms were beginning to make their attacks on the London giants. They had the advantages of being smaller and therefore faster to react to new technology and the advantages of lower premises and staff costs.

And Jim Beresford, 58, and Douglas Smith, 52, partners in Beresfords, took advantage of those factors and their connections in the unions and coal mining industry to develop an astoundingly successful personal injury practice specialising in miners' compensation claims.

In 2006 alone, Beresfords billed more than GBP23 million.

And yet, working on a contingency fee basis, or mixed basic rate plus contingency fee, the firm took the lion's share of damages awards, often leaving the claimant, or his family, with just a few hundred pounds out of payments by the Compensation Board of thousands.

And it is not just Beresfords that are in trouble: several other personal injury firms are under investigation or have received some form of penalty for the terms they imposed on their clients who, the Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal found in the Beresfords case, were disadvantaged by being presented by incomprehensible documents by the very people that were supposed to be protecting their interests.

The case, and several others, has been referred to the Serious Fraud Office.

Correction 12 Dec 2008: The current partners of Beresfords have asked us to clarify the following:

1. Jim Beresford and Douglas Smith are no longer with the firm.

2. The remaining partners were not implicated in the action and the firm continues with no action brought against the remaining partners.

3. The current partners say that "the firm did not take the lion's share" of the damages awards with the results we indicate.

4. The Serious Fraud Office investigation referred to does not include Beresfords.

We apologise for the errors.