1991 was an important year for the 33 year old me. I was “Mum” to 3 and 2 year-old girls, I had become an equity partner in a new law firm and, the piece de la resistance, a founding member, one of 30, of the newly formed Motor Accident Solicitors Society
Looking back, I cannot help but think where have 30 years gone but, in the case of MASS, I can very clearly see 30 years of achievement and growth, not just in size – moving from 30 to near 200 firms, but in terms of influence at industry, Government and individual level.
Back in 1991 naming the society proved most problematic. The ‘Personal Injury Solicitors Society’, a name of first choice, whilst apt seemed hardly appropriate for a serious society and the same could be said for ‘Accident solicitors Society’! In the circumstances MASS seemed the safest option.
However, it can be said whilst the name was problematic, the concept was simple. As summarised by one of the founders:
“In 1991 there was a need to disseminate information between what were then ‘plaintiff’ firms, on such hot topics as the going rate for loss of use, the rapid extension of credit hire and the rise in the small claims court limit from £500 to £1,000. There was also an enlightened awareness of the fact that there was strength in numbers with the obvious impact of improved bargaining powers and higher profile.”
This then was the vision and over the following 30 years I can, in all honesty, say the vision has not only been achieved but well exceeded.
The cornerstone of achievement has been in membership benefits. I am talking here about training which progressed from one-off seminars to a complete training arm of the society, the MASS newsletter delivered initially to firms in paper format then included delivery to individuals and progressed to the delivery in e-format which we see today. The MASS conference has always been the highlight of the MASS year with the coming together of all that MASS hold dear. Until the pandemic it was an important opportunity to network with our MASS colleagues, to learn about current and interesting issues, to share information and best practice and to view innovative services from our sponsors and exhibitors. MASS has never apologised for bringing a commercial approach to our conferences, trail blazing the way for other societies.
But MASS quickly became much more than what could have been perceived as a self- interested talking shop. In 1996, encouraged by the Wolf reforms which advocated use of pre- action protocols, MASS instigated negotiations with the insurance industry to simplify process in straightforward cases, reducing case duration and transactional cost not only for the benefit of insurers, and claimant lawyers but for our claimant clients creating a market leading “best practice” delivered by MASS lawyers.
MASS can take pride in the fact that the MASS RTA protocol became a blueprint for fixed recoverable costs which succeeded in delivering fair damages at a fair cost and earning MASS a much coveted place at the table in cost negotiations from 2001-2003 and beyond. The practical approach MASS representatives brought to the table cemented the societies position as an industry expert leading to regular inclusion in industry and Government events and legislative consultations.
I firmly believe that MASS’ involvement in the streamlining of the claims process and the RTA portal between 2007-2010 was key to the Government’s decision not to raise the small claims limit as MASS expertise brought a practical approach to process improvement and along with other claimant experts delivered a fair, negotiated cost agreement.
However, raising the small claims limit has remained constantly on successive Government agendas, from MASS inception to the present day. Throughout, MASS has used the early profile and recognition of the society to fight hard on behalf of the membership. In recent years greater emphasis has been put on lobbying as less industry negotiation has taken place in favour of Government dictate. Lobbying has enjoyed a degree of success creating delay and awareness of issues prior to implementation of reform.
The fight is never over to protect the claimant’s right to expert representation and for appropriate damages at a fair cost. There is no better time than now for MASS to make an impact with an incoming Chair who, as a director of Portal Co, MedCo and Claimant Co, has her ear close to the ground and the introduction of the Official Injury Claim portal which has been described as “the biggest challenge to the sector in almost a decade”. 30 years on MASS is still here and well positioned to accept that challenge in facing the problematic implementation of OIC and the threat of yet further reform.
So, it would appear we have come full circle in continuing to provide a strong voice for our members leveraging our strength in numbers. With the implementation of change and the detail within it MASS has never being more relevant.
30 years on and I am sad to say the time has come for me to bow out from the society but it gives me great pleasure to be here today to witness the 30th anniversary of the Motor Accident Solicitors Society and to wish the Society and all its Members great success in the next 30 years!
Janet Tilley, author of ‘MASS 1991 – 2021’, was MASS Chair 2001 and 2002 and MASS Treasurer 2017-2021.