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Law firm rues its creation of fictional ‘Mr Thikas Toosh Ortplanks’ character

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Solicitors coined £77m from personal injury claims, but it didn’t stop them taking the Mickey out of miners

Lead

A union is reported to have sacked personal injury specialist law firm Raleys for creating a fictional miner called ‘Mr Thikas Toosh Ortplanks’.

According to a report in last weekend’s Mail on Sunday newspaper, the clever clogs at Raleys thought it would be tremendous good fun to invoke the disparaging stereotype of a miner in one of the firm’s training manuals.

Presumably the chapter heading was along the lines of “Oikish horny-handed sons of toil and how to deal with them”.

The problem is that Barnsley-based Raleys has made a nice little living from those sons of toil. The MoS estimates the firm has coined some £77 million in total from miner compensation claims, bringing actions around such areas as vibration white finger.

So understandably, the National Union of Mineworkers — which is dusting off the Margaret Thatcher effigies to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the start of the 1984 miners’ strike — appears not to be that chuffed with Raleys.

The newspaper quotes Chris Skidmore, NUM Yorkshire branch chairman as saying he is “bitter” about the firm’s depiction of miners in its training materials.

“When you go to a professional you think they are giving you the right advice,” he told the paper. “I’m appalled at our treatment and to refer to miners as ‘thick as two short planks’ by people we placed our trust in is disgraceful.”

Skidmore went on to explain to the MoS that the union had instructed the firm for 90 years. It now looks as though the senior partners will have to do some fast and sweet talking to get the client back on board.

But creating not-very-funny schoolboy jokes about clients is only part of Raleys’ worries. Last May, the Appeal Court threw out the firm’s bid to overturn a £6,000 professional negligence ruling in favour of a vibration white finger-suffering miner.

The Law Gazette reported that the appeal judges found Raley’s case to be “completely unsustainable”. And as far back as 2009 it emerged that the Law Society compensation scheme had coughed up more than £300,000 to cover inadequate professional services claims brought by miner former clients.

Raleys managing partner Carol Gill told Legal Cheek:

“The reference [to the fictional miner] was part of a staff training exercise conducted in 2002. The current management consider it was a poor-taste joke, which should not have been sanctioned. However, in this recent matter we were duty bound to disclose it to the court as relevant to the case. I believe it did not reflect the true, general attitude of Raleys Solicitors at the time, and it certainly does not reflect the attitude of any of our staff today.”

Gill went on to say:

“A number of claims have been made against Raleys in recent months, all relating to the now-historic vibration white finger compensation scheme, which closed in 2002. Of six recent claims that went to court, three were rejected and the claimants were ordered to pay Raleys’ costs, and three succeeded.

“We appealed all three of these. Our first appeal has been rejected, and we await the outcomes of the other two. Another 24 claims have not gone to court. Of these, 15 have been withdrawn including eight in which the claimants will pay Raleys’ costs, and the other nine have been conceded by Raleys and settled.”

A spokesman for the firm said the NUM had not as yet informed the solicitors of whether they would be instructed again in the future.

Presumably the firm’s in-house training flunkies are under a three-line whip to use nothing more creative than Joe Blogs for future hypothetical case studies.

Update — 11.15am , 23 July 2014

National Union of Mineworkers Yorkshire branch chairman Chris Skidmore has contacted Legal Cheek to clarify that Barnsley firm Raleys has not yet been formally sacked — but the lawyers are walking a thin line.

Indeed, the partners’ inability to walk 250 yards is what is really baffling and angering Skidmore.

He points out that Raleys’ offices are just a short stroll down the road from the union’s local headquarters — yet, despite the media storm around the firm’s training manual indiscretion, he has not received so much as a ‘phone call — let alone a personal delegation — from the solicitors proffering an apology.

Skidmore says he and his members remain “very angry” that a law firm “that has made a lot of money” from vibration white finger claims would so crassly insult its own clients.

As for the official statement from Raleys’ managing partner Carol Gill acknowledging the creation of the fictitious miner character was a “poor taste joke” — for Skidmore, “that just doesn’t wash with us”.

Perhaps the senior partners should stroll down the road this lunch time.