Law Society clamps down on ‘claims harvesting’ websites

Illegal practice involves gathering and selling information for potential injury claims

A crackdown on illegal advertising practices by Irish solicitors has led to the closure of "claims harvesting" websites which procure and sell information for potential personal injury claims.

Often run by non-solicitors, harvesting operations have been criticised in the High Court and are the focus of investigations by the profession's regulatory body.

The Law Society’s regulation of practice committee has engaged a media monitoring company to examine online and print advertising to identify practices in violation of rules introduced in legislation in 2002.

Claims harvesting – sometimes referred to as “ambulance chasing” – is the practice of gathering personal information on potential litigants and selling it to third-party legal firms.


The regulations have a specific focus on personal injury litigation and ban expressions including “no win no fee” and “free first consultation”.

Most advertising has by now migrated to the internet through websites and social media. Since investigations began in 2014, 13 harvesting sites have been shut down.


"One of the difficulties is finding out who exactly is behind the advertising. These are the investigations that have been under way and one of the key aspects of [the advertisements] is a degree of anonymity," explained Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society.

“But we are doing it quite determinedly and IT expertise is being utilised to identify who is behind the advertising and also to identify if a solicitor’s firm is behind them.”

He said most breaches were quickly amended by solicitors. Those which were not were referred to the committee’s advertising regulations division, which had dealt with 52 cases to date.

Sanctions range from formal reprimand and undertakings to have future advertising monitored for three years, right up to High Court proceedings.

Last December, the High Court ordered the permanent removal of the harvesting website “”.

During proceedings, Mr Justice Peter Kelly said he would make orders "bringing an end to claims harvesting, a practice which is as unattractive as its name".


Among other cases policed by the Law Society was a firm which cited a “particular type of medical negligence” and one that circulated door-to-door leaflets with numerous violations. Both were sanctioned.

However, critics believe the regulations are often too rigid. One solicitor found to be in breach of a non-harvesting related advertising rule said certain outlawed practices were perfectly legitimate.

“We are all doing it and I don’t believe intentionally,” the solicitor, who did not wish to be named, said.

Many solicitors were appalled that “there are firms out there who want to advertise their expertise [but] they are being truncated by anachronistic regulations”.

The soliticitor cited the issue of advertising a free consultation and a commitment to a “no win, no fee”, or contingency approach to representation.

“This allows the public at large to have their claims vindicated and there is no point in shooting the messenger.

“The reality is that the public can’t bring claims because the costs are astronomical. And who do the public turn to? Solicitors.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times