Experience: I spent a month putting into practice the tort law I learnt on the GDL

Monica Davis shares her experience of doing a vac scheme at the UK’s largest medical negligence law firm

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This time last year, I decided to take the plunge and embark upon the most intense academic year of my life, the formidable GDL.

While studying, I forced myself to leave some time to apply for vacation schemes and other work experience; I had been repeatedly told that “all work experience is good work experience” and “get as much legal work experience in as many different places as you can”. So over the year, I was lucky enough to bag a couple of placements, including a four-week work stint at a Serious Injury specialist law firm, Fletchers Solicitors, based in the north-west. I had found out about Fletchers through the Legal Cheek event, Beyond corporate law: How to become a serious injury lawyer. At Fletchers, all that tort law started to make sense.

And so that is how I found myself in Southport, a fair-sized seaside town not far from Liverpool and rented a house-share. Over the course of the placement, I had one week in each of the firm’s departments: medical negligence, serious injury, road traffic accidents and costs. I spent my days shadowing various teams that deal with different stages of a claim.

I became interested in personal injury when I was studying tort on the GDL. At first, it was very confusing and I didn’t get it at all. Then over time it started to make more sense. It also really helps now that I have seen tort law ‘for real’ in private practice.

The sheer number of cases in tort is mindboggling: Barnett v Chelsea, Nettleship v Weston, Wilsher v Essex — the list goes on. But I was surprised to learn on my placement that there was one case that seemed to take centre stage. The word that echoed across the Medical Negligence floor was Bolam, Bolam, Bolam, Bolam. It was slightly disappointing that a lot of the other cases that I had spent hours agonising over didn’t surface! (Of course, there were also a considerable number of very specific damages cases which I hadn’t heard of before).

In general I was really pleased with how one can understand (more or less) the legal elements of real life medical negligence claims. I feel that the GDL stood me in good stead in teaching me what I needed to know. It gave me a huge sense of satisfaction that I could use in practice much of what I had previously studied.

There were similarities between the way real life cases are handled and how we tackled problem questions on the GDL. For instance, lawyers who were negotiating the value of a claim with the other party would cite case law where injuries and circumstances were very similar to their clients’ injuries and circumstances.

It was fascinating to see how the law assesses whether medical professionals, mostly doctors and dentists, have fallen below the reasonable standard of care. “Remember, it does not have to be the best standard of care, but a reasonable standard”. Failing to diagnose, failing to take a particular scan or exam in good time, overlooking XYZ are just a few breaches. Proving that the breaches actually caused the injury is the next hurdle. Explaining to client that there is breach but no causation is another hurdle in itself.

I saw these tort principles being applied to a range of injuries from wrist injuries to complex brain injuries. Employer’s liability, occupier’s liability and product liability crossed over on occasion too. I sat in on meetings where solicitors would discuss liability on their highest-value claims, sometimes worth hundreds of thousands and even millions of pounds.

“Medical negligence is pure tort,” one helpful nurse told me. (I never knew law firms hired in-house medical professionals!) Although I completely agree, personal injury law in practice is a lot more about the subject matter than it is about black-letter law. Personal injury lawyers are fluent in anatomy, medicine and road safety. Law is just this floating thing that zigs and zags in and out of a person’s claim, pushing it in different directions, hopefully to the next stage of the litigation process.

Overall, working at a serious injury boutique firm gave me a varied and unique experience that I would never have received otherwise. It confirmed my interested in litigation and I am very much open to the idea of a career in personal injury. Having had two work placements in very contrasting types of law firms in very different locations, I am much closer to discovering the type of firm and areas of law that will suit me best. The advice was spot on: get as much experience in as diverse firms and practice areas as possible.

Monica Davis completed the GDL at ULaw’s Moorgate branch this summer having studied her undergraduate degree at Southampton University.

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