Careers

Five things we learnt from ‘How to become a serious injury lawyer’

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Panel of serious injury and medical negligence solicitors and barristers shares its pearls of wisdom

On Wednesday last week Legal Cheek partnered with top serious injury law firm Fletchers to hold a careers advice discussion for students in Manchester. The speakers, in order from left to right in the full event video above, were Christopher Melton QC, specialist catastrophic injury barrister; Mark Tempest, head of the serious injuries unit of Fletchers’ medical negligence practice; Adrian Denson, Fletchers’ chief legal officer; and Ed Fletcher, CEO of Fletchers. Below we have highlighted some of the key things we learnt from the session.

1. It’s impossible to become ‘hardened’ to working with seriously injured claimants

The day you become hardened to serious injury work is the day you should stop doing it.

The importance and emotional impact of serious injury work is the reason Fletcher’s CEO Ed Fletcher gets out of bed in the morning. A good personal injury specialist will not lose the love of helping the family and the individual put the pieces of their life back together. “You can never become hardened to that”, he concludes.

Claimants are often devastated by their injuries and shut everyone out. One of the few people they connect with is their lawyer (“if they’re good”, says Fletcher). In this respect, being instructed is a privilege.

2. Serious injury work is extremely varied

And because of this it can be difficult to speak about the sector in general terms. In the words of Fletchers’ chief legal officer, Adrian Denson:

Serious injury can be anything from very complex orthopaedic injuries where the individual is very seriously injured, but they may over a period of years reach full recovery… And there is the maximum severity work: the paraplegics, the tetraplegics, the severe brain injuries, the amputees. We’re talking about a huge spectrum of cases here. So it’s difficult to say… ‘How should we change the law or change the system?’ To deal with serious injury work because you’re dealing with such a breadth of work here.

3. An ability to empathise is vital to being a successful serious injury lawyer

This according to Mark Tempest, who heads up Fletchers’ medical negligence practice. He also stresses that determination, curiosity, reflectiveness and organisation skills are crucial. With this Christopher Melton QC, a specialist catastrophic injury barrister, agrees, but adds:

You need to be involved, but not get too involved. It’s about getting involved and empathising with the person [the client], but then at some stage just detaching yourself and think ‘am I failing to see the wood from the trees?’

In this regard, the best lawyers are empathetic and objective.

4. Claimants are soon going to be entitled to more compensation

Lord Chancellor Liz Truss has got personal injury lawyers across the country talking by announcing she’ll adjust what’s known as the ‘discount rate’. This calculates how much insurers need to pay upfront to successful claimants. It is currently scheduled to come into effect on 20 March.

While the media has shone a critical light on the discount rate (as it stands, it will lead to higher insurance premiums and NHS payouts), the panel thinks it is “good news” as it will ensure seriously injured claimants will receive what is a truer estimate of the money they’ll need for the rest of their life.

Whether this will have an impact on aspiring personal injury solicitors, Denson is not sure. While the announcement is great for claimants, he cannot see a “direct link” to be made between the introduction of the proposed discount rate and the attractiveness of the profession. Of course, however, fighting to achieve the best results for the client is a key reason why solicitors train in this area of law, so aspiring lawyers should welcome this development.

5. Some people think suing the NHS is a bad thing, but this isn’t the case

“The NHS is amazing,” Fletcher says. There is a reverence to it; some people see it in an almost quasi-religious way. But when negligence occurs and someone gets hurt, something has to be done about it.

And that ‘something’ isn’t about rapacious lawyers or greedy claimants. It’s about helping people when something has gone wrong and shining a light on negligence to make sure it doesn’t happen again (the threat of litigation drives standards in the NHS). After all, one of the first things lawyers hear when taking instructions is, “I just don’t want anyone else to have to go through this”. Serious injury claims are “a process that’s making things better for everyone”, adds Fletcher.

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