Personal injury law
Although personal injury lawyers suffer from derogatory stereotypes such as the “ambulance chaser” label, most practitioners find this area of practice both lucrative and emotionally satisfying. Since the practice of personal injury law differs greatly from its public reputation, it’s important that you become aware of its dynamics before you decide to pursue it as a career.
What do personal injury lawyers do?
Personal injury lawyers resolve disputes that arise when someone seeks compensation for an injury that was allegedly caused by the wrongful behaviour of someone else. A claimant’s lawyer seeks to establish the plaintiff’s claim and to maximise the compensation awarded (either through negotiation or trial) while a defendant’s lawyer, quite naturally, seeks to deny or minimise liability.
The types of injuries that can lead to a personal injury claim are all but limitless. They include, for example:
- Road accident injuries
- Slip and fall accident injuries
- Injuries caused by defective consumer products, such as pharmaceuticals
- Injuries caused by the clinical negligence of doctors and other health-care professionals
- Dog bites
- Occupational injuries
- Industrial diseases
- Public transportation injuries
The amount of compensation awarded can range from £1,000 or so to millions of pounds, and claimant’s lawyers are typically paid on a no-win, no-fee basis. “No-win, no-fee” means no compensation for a losing effort but a significant percentage of the recovery (perhaps 25 per cent) for a winning effort. A winning effort, of course, includes a negotiated settlement.
What kinds of clients will I be dealing with?
On the claimant’s side, since anyone can be injured, you will be dealing with individual clients from all walks of life. Because of the “no-win, no-fee” payment structure, you will likely be dealing with less affluent clients more often than you would in other areas of practice. You will come to know some of these clients quite well. On the defendant’s side, you will likely be dealing with insurance-company executives most of the time.
What kind of work will I do?
A claimant’s solicitor will:
- Meet with clients to discuss the claim and the status of any legal proceedings
- Investigate the circumstances of the accident
- Examine medical records and interview doctors
- Commission further medical reports if needed
- Calculate the value of the claimant’s lost earnings
- Calculate the aggregate value of the claim, including anticipated future losses such as continuing medical expenses as well as future lost earnings
- Negotiate settlements with opposing parties (generally insurance companies)
- File personal injury lawsuits
A defendant’s solicitor will investigate the circumstances of the accident, examine medical records, interview doctors and examine claims of lost earnings, all with a view to minimising liability or denying it altogether. He will also investigate the claimant’s potential contributory liability, negotiate settlements and file documents with courts.
What does a typical day look like?
A typical day begins at around 7:30 and ends at 5:30 or 6:30 in the evening. Workloads vary, however, and you may find yourself working nights and weekends as critical deadlines approach. You will spend most of your time in the office – even negotiations typically take place over the phone or by email. There will be plenty of opportunities to meet with clients, however, and occasional opportunities for international travel.
What makes a good personal injury lawyer?
The following qualities are particularly important in a personal injury lawyer:
- As a claimant solicitor, the most important intangible quality you can possess is compassion for your clients. General interpersonal skills are also paramount, because you will be dealing with your clients under very trying circumstances.
- Negotiation skills are paramount, since it’s likely that most claims will be resolved by settlement.
- A nuanced understanding of insurance law, professional negligence and malpractice liability is critical.
- For clinical negligence cases, you will need a certain amount of medical knowledge – not enough to read an X-ray, for example, but enough to identify legal issues hiding in volumes of medical data.
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