When most people think of torts (if they are familiar with the term at all), they think of personal injury law. Although personal injury law certainly accounts for a major portion of tort law, the field is much broader than this.
Tort law includes personal injury law in addition to other civil wrongs such as:
- Infringement of patents, trademarks and copyrights;
- Environmental damage;
- Nuisance (a factory’s release of foul odours into a residential neighbourhood, for example);
- Breach of confidence;
- False imprisonment;
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress;
- Conversion (theft);
- Deceit (fraud, misrepresentation);
- Assault (no personal injury is required); and
- Battery (no personal injury is required).
The thread that ties all of these types of claims together is the principle that a person should pay the cost of their own misconduct, even if another party initially suffered the loss. All of these torts are subject to money damages once established. Most claims are resolved at the settlement table, not in court, even though court remedies are generally available.
What kinds of clients will I be dealing with?
As a claimant’s solicitor, you will be representing individuals most of the time. Since anyone can be victimised by a tortious act, you will be dealing with all sorts of people – and since even a street cleaner can afford a “no-win, no-pay” arrangement, many (but by no means all) of your clients will be people who normally cannot afford to hire a lawyer. As a defendant’s lawyer, you will deal largely with insurance companies.
What kind of work will I do?
As a new lawyer, you’re likely to be called upon to perform a lot of legal research and to prepare some of the mountains of paperwork that a typical tort case produces. As you climb the ladder of responsibility, you’re likely to be conducting investigations designed to reveal case facts, interviewing clients, formulating overall case strategy, participating in settlement negotiations and drafting settlement agreements. In some cases, you may appear before administrative tribunals.
What qualities make a good tort lawyer?
Following are the most important skills you need to cultivate, not all of which are taught in the classroom, to prepare for a successful career as a tort lawyer:
- Interpersonal skills: As a claimant’s solicitor you will frequently be dealing with clients who are experiencing a low point in their life – a catastrophic injury, for example, or a betrayal of some sort. This reality renders it vitally important that you cultivate the qualities of empathy, patience and tact. As a defendant’s lawyer you may need to build long-term relationships with insurance companies.
- You will also be required to master the fine nuances of a great volume of substantive and procedural law that applies to tort claims, and you will have to learn how to apply the law to unique fact patterns to the advantage of your client.
- Writing: The ability to express yourself in client correspondence, negotiation-related memoranda, settlement agreements, court documents and other forms of legal writing is critical.
- Negotiation skills: Are you a skilled poker player? In the long run, your skills as a negotiation psychologist may end up serving you just as well as your legal skills.
What kind of workload can I expect?
Your workload will likely be heavy from the very beginning. As a junior solicitor, you may be assigned to relatively low-value cases, which means that you will probably end up juggling a great number of clients and keeping track of numerous deadlines. As your experience grows, your caseload will probably shrink as the stakes get higher. Either way, your workload is likely to be irregular and involve considerable overtime.
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