Some considerable years ago, myself and an esteemed colleague now working at another firm turned up with a client for an appointment with a very senior Barrister. We were there to discuss a medical claim which was to say the least – complex. The Barrister in question, had been selected by us with the client as he could demonstrate a glowing review in every online publication, including the very prestigious Chambers and Partners. He advertised himself on his chambers website as a “clinical negligence specialist” and in fact was the most senior of all his colleagues. We were somewhat in awe and frankly we were ready to be impressed. As you can imagine, his rooms at Chambers were lined with impressive looking tomes and his acres of desk space yawned between us like a highly polished 19th century oak Royal Naval Frigate! Then he started speaking…
Regrettably, it took about 3 minutes for the client and ourselves to realise that not only did this chap have zero grasp of the case, the underlying medicine that was at issue in the action, had also completely evaded him. He made mistake after mistake and was corrected in turn by each of us – his embarrasement at this only served to fuel our frustratration as he continued to blunder and bluster through another 30 mins of that infernal conference. In utter frustration the client stood, straightend herself, spun on her heel and left the room without a word. We later learnt that she had asked the Clerk on reception if that was “really the barrister they advertised on thier site or the bloody cleaner”. It was ruby red faces all round.
If we as Solicitors were so easily mislead by a supposed professional, what possible hope can there be for a member of the public? And that’s the rub, ultimately, spotting a wannabee or a “fake it till you make it” merchant has, over the years, gotten harder not easier. The rise of online profiles and review sites has displaced word of mouth and frankly, not for the better. Now anyone with a laptop and an internet connection can boast about thier “high” status to an audience of literally millions.
So when it comes to finding a specialist medical negligence solicitor what practical advice can be offered. Well it comes with little comfort but ultimately, you should think of the following as a means of reducing the white noise of the pretenders and not eliminating it.
- Is this really a Medical Negligence Solicitor? – it may astonish you to learn this but once, I was unfortunate enough to be employed by a firm that had over 700 other employees. It was a National Solicitors firm with millions in turnover and a call centre which handled over 3000 potential claims per month. it even had “specialist” departments for different types of claim. Each department had teams of “litigation executives” (for this you can read unqualified paralegals) who were supervised by a “Legal Manager” (read unqualified wide boy) whose job it was to turn your claim into cash money for the “Legal Directors” (read fat necked, red faced, money grabbers). Now the shocking bit here is that the firm had less than 10 qualified Solicitors (I was a barrister at the time and the only one in the firm) and most of those chaps never opened a client file. The Solicitors Regulatory Authority were quite content to have so few Solicitors on site (although the firm was investigated more than once) as they were satisfied that sufficient “supervision” existed for the rag tag bunch of secretaries and clerks who did 99.9% of the work. So lesson one here is: make sure your claim is going to be run by (not just supervised by) a Solicitor. Get their name up front, (if you cannot get this out of them do not trust them) and check their profile on the Law Society find a Solicitor site. Don’t listen to any blather about the experience of non qualified staff – they will tell you anything – also do not be misled by “we have over 100 years of experience” – what these guys mean is we have 200 staff who have been employed for 6 months each! Remember always – you wouldn’t let a butcher do your neurosurgery would you? A specialist medical negligence solicitor will as a minimum list medical negligence on thier law society description page – pay attention to what else they do. Then do a bit of research.
- Specialist is not a qualification its a condition. If you were to ask me or in fact any real medical neglgence specialist they would say – I am a Specialist Medical lawyer. Ask me to prove it and I can:
- I do so by reference to either or both of my postgraduate medical forensic qualifications and my appointments to panels of medical legal advisory services both in terms of patient safety and healthcare indemnity.
- Look at my membership of the Law Society Specialist Clinical Negligence Panel. There are other specialist panels by the way, the Law Society knows this and will tell you about them just as Mercedes will acknowledge that there are losts of other types of car (good luck with them sir).
- I don’t do any other type of work other than medical. No personal injury claims, no employment law, no conveyancing. I would not know how to help you with this other stuff and whenever anyone at a party asks me to draft a will or help them sell thier house – I give them my bestest shrug and tell them to bother my wife (who is a conveyancer by the way – I’m not just trying to wind her up).
- I can point you at my clients, both clinical, surgical and dental, they will happily tell you about me and the work I do for them.
- Also, should you care to look, I have a slew of favourable reviews by real satisfied “clinical” clients of mine. This is a very important point. Take a close look at some firms reviews on Trustpilot or Yell or Google. What you will see is that they do in fact have 5 star reviews but they are frequently about the firms divorce or immigration lawyer. Its all one persons work in a department that you are not interested in instructing
This is the real mark of the wannabee or faker specialists, they rely on the reputation of others, they rely on the firms kudos to fill the gap in thier own performance. The Truth about such lawyers is that they are at best, weak claims processors, you will not get a good service, they are not well run, they are the inevitable consequence of a Commercially focused culture, they will take instructions on anything at all and promise you the world in return – they will then look up the answers secretly (sometimes, they even ask me) . You will not have to look hard to find an example for this, the real TRUTH is they are everywhere. I know what your thinking – I’m thinking it too….
- Whats your case load? – Firms such as the one described at the outset fulfill all of the criteria to be called a law firm, they have: just enough real lawyers, just enough books and resources, just enough supervisory audits. The reality is though, they are “Claims Factories” they do not really have any specialism or expertise, what they have is size. They churn out claims everyday and settle everything they can, abandoning everything they cannot. They have learnt the hard way that real law takes time and effort and they harry thier staff with “service level requirments”, “costs billing targets” and “performance reviews” if a claim takes too long or is too complex the client is told that the claim has limited prospects and is simply closed. How do you know if you are speaking to such a firm – ask them about thier case load, will you be 1 claim in 30, 1 claim in 50, 1 claim in 100. Most of these firms operate at around the 75 file per fee earner level. Real Solicitor specialists would never allow such a positon. The maximum for a hardworking specialist medical Solicitor would be about 35 cases. Any more than this and none of those files are being properley serviced.
What would you do if there was no medical negligence anymore ?– its a bit off centre this one. I can tell you, though, in 20 years of service every single specialist medical lawyer I have met and have any respect for, has given the same answer to this question. They each reply “celebrate“. Thats no mean joke. I cannot tell you how many times I have stood outside of an inquest with the parents of a dead child, or watched a decent person pour thier hearts out to me over the indignity that thier wife, husband, son or daughter suffered before death. I cannot count how many lives I have seen utterley shattered by medical error, foolishness or even (sometimes and infrequently) incompetence. If all this were ended tommorrow I would happily make a living cutting grass or selling my wifes fruit cakes (she makes exceedingly good cakes my wife). If you could watch a real clinical lawyer for a day, you would realise there is little joy in bringing people money for thier suffering. There is no comfort at all in a cheque book.
I can tell you what the others would say though, they would say “It will never end – I’m set for life“. They are sadly, entirely correct.
By the way the unnamed barrister mentioned above is now a distinguished and somewhat pompous Coroner… yes, I know what your thinking, I thought that too…