It’s not all no win, no fee...
Personal injury law is also related to clinical negligence. Together they involve helping clients gain compensation for injuries suffered in accidents, at home or outside, and injuries inflicted on account of negligence by medical practitioners.
This area of law is plagued by unfortunate stereotypes that have derived from perpetual “no win, no fee” advertising and the perception of personal injury lawyers as ambulance chasers. However, the reality of personal injury law is far from these misconceptions.
Why is personal injury law important? What does it involve?
Equity is a cornerstone of the legal system in the UK. If someone has caused physical or pecuniary (financial loss) injury to you, then this situation should be made fair. This is the premise of personal injury law. Effectively, the aim is to right any wrongs that others have caused.
Claimants’ lawyers act on behalf of injured parties, whilst defendants’ lawyers will operate on behalf of the party accused of causing or exacerbating the injury suffered. Most defendants carry malpractice or accident insurance. As a result, in a suit filed for personal injury, the insurance company or carrier also becomes a defendant in the proceedings.
Working in this field, you will find yourself representing private individuals, local authorities, medical practitioners and employers.
Break it down for me a little bit!
As a personal injury lawyer you will begin by collecting and verifying the details of the claim filed. You will then document the injuries received and the expenses incurred as a result of them. Furthermore, you will extrapolate the time and earnings lost on account of the injury and calculate the appropriate compensation or damages that the claimant is due.
You will check medical reports, and make provisions for further checks where required, to ascertain and support the facts of the case. Defendants’ lawyers try to reduce the liability and compensation due from their clients and look into the claimant’s culpability during the accident. They aim to reduce the amount of compensation that will be paid out and try to make sure the fee is as little as possible. They may do this through a settlement or in the course of court proceedings.
Personal injury lawyers require exceptional people management skills. Working with a wide range of people, it is also essential that you are empathetic, show genuine interest in resolving their problems and have an impressive amount of patience.
Practising as a personal injury lawyer requires you to be up-to-date with relevant legislation and regulations. You will also need a thorough knowledge of medical matters and the ability to pick up on the complexities which arise from such claims. Creative thinking and first-class communication and negotiation skills are an absolute must. On the technical side, a comprehensive understanding of insurance law, professional negligence and malpractice liability are extremely critical.
Cathie Mortimer, Partner, BLM.
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
Each day is different and brings new challenges and opportunities to learn. However, I start each day with a large coffee and a review of my e-mails, which come from colleagues, insurer customers, claimant’s solicitors and the policy holders for whom BLM act. I then review our case management system to ensure that all tasks that have to be completed that day are identified. It’s important to plan as a personal injury solicitor and make sure you’re always one step ahead. I also like to catch up with the team and review their workload.
How do you handle and organise / prioritise your workload?
Prioritisation and organisation are two of the most important skills required in my role. There a lot of conflicting priorities which must be juggled, from court deadlines to customer demands. This always keeps you on your toes. Each day I make a list of all of the tasks that need to be completed, create an action plan and develop solutions to address our customers’ issues. Flexibility, however, is always required as a solicitor’s day never quite seems to go according to plan.
What sort of daily responsibilities does a partner have in personal injury law? How does it differ from an associate role?
As a partner I spend much of my day liaising with customers, progressing files, monitoring billing, attending meetings, completing business development and checking reports and case plans. I also spend a lot of time supervising the junior lawyers in my team and mentoring our trainees. However, I am not only responsible for the technical aspects and ensuring we provide the best legal advice to our customers, but also the operational running and financial management of the firm.
Can you give us an idea of the sort of projects you manage from day to day?
In my team we handle large volumes of interesting cases, which takes up a lot of my time, but I do get involved in other projects around the business. Recently I have been heavily involved in the recruitment of our trainee solicitors and have acted as an assessor at our new assessment centres. It is important that partners are involved in identifying our next generation of solicitors.
What sort of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis?
The majority of our customers are the major insurance companies that are household names. However, we also have several large major companies who are self-insured, including fleets and transport companies and public services. We also deal daily with brokers and individual policy holders when discussing specific cases.
Rachael Aram is a partner in Personal Injury law at Irwin Mitchell’s Sheffield office. Coffee dependent, Rachael identifies good risk assessment, ‘the art of plate spinning’ and organisation as the three essential skills that every personal injury lawyer must have. Alongside this, she outlines her responsibilities as a partner of a law firm that turns over in excess of £200m…
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
Luckily we have a Starbucks in the building so my first stop of the day is always there – I have a keen caffeine addiction as a result. It’s not a recommended action, I’m sure the correct answer would be to check my diary and emails but the practical part of me screams coffee first, everything else second.
How is your day organised?
With the best will in the world, my life operates from Outlook, and as we are always so busy, I have to plan the days quite carefully not only for client time, interviews and working on cases, but management of staff, performance reviews, appropriate supervision, audits, business development and strategic considerations to name a few. Being a personal injury lawyer, you essentially have to have three essential key skills: good risk assessment, the art of plate spinning and organisation.
What daily responsibilities does a partner have within personal injury law?
I think this depends very much on the type of firm you practice with and the size of that practice. I work in a large firm with over 2,000 staff, national coverage specialising in many areas of law with turnover in excess of £200m in the last financial year. My responsibilities start with my team and my clients and range from monthly performance reviews of staff members and supervision and auditing of files within the team, to managing my own clients and caseload, and going out into the community to develop the business and secure new work in a very competitive legal market. Other responsibilities include driving performance and management information on a commercial basis, and making strategic decisions.
How does it differ from an associate role?
We rely on our Associates at Irwin Mitchell; they play a key role as senior members of staff within our business and are one of the largest populations of staff. Within my team, I expect Associates to be key advocates for our business and take ownership of their own business development projects, possibly manage other members of staff, and to meet challenging targets for bringing fee income into the business. We communicate with our Associates to make sure that their own career paths and ambitions are being fulfilled or that they have the support and tools to achieve this wherever possible. They also act as role models for younger members of staff aspiring to be promoted to Associate within the firm. The future of our business and succession planning is important and we see our future Partners in the Associates coming through.
Please provide details of the type of projects you manage on a day-to-day basis?
I have a number of projects which I am responsible for, including graduate recruitment for the Sheffield Office, something I could not do without the support of our amazing graduate recruitment team. I am responsible for managing and securing my team’s financial and time recording targets and I prepare and present training on a range of legal topics and a variety of key business development projects.
What type of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis?
Our firm is large and covers many areas of law, so this allows us the opportunity to specialise in niche areas. My team deal with serious injuries, but essentially we specialise in representing clients who have sustained severe brain or spinal cord injury. The severity of these injuries mean it has had a pernicious effect on that person’s life and also that of their family, which means good communication skills are also essential.