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Choosing A Solicitor - Specialist Experience & Expertise Is Vital

Not so many years ago a client approached us concerned that their then solicitor was advising them to settle their claim for a lump sum they thought was not enough. The long story cut short is we settled the claim for 44 times the amount the previous solicitor was advising the client should settle for.

There are many troubling issues in that true story.

  • The client had suffered a life changing spinal cord injury – no amount of money would be enough, but they needed a lot more monto even get close to compensating them for their loss (which is after all what litigation lawyers are there to achieve).
  • The client had gone to the original firm upon a recommendation from a family friend. The family friend undoubtedly doing their best to try and help just wasn’t in a position to be able to help despite their best intentions. Neither was the client sufficiently informed at that point to weigh how helpful or possibly unhelpful the recommendation was.
  • The original solicitor had been prepared to ‘have a go’ at an area of law that demands much more in terms of specialism, experience, and expertise. That having a go was literally at the client’s expense. The relationship seemed to abuse the trust clients have to have in their solicitors.
  • If the client hadn’t been curious enough to seek a second opinion, they may well have been in a horrendous situation now, some years later and unable to have accessed any of the care, equipment, therapies, or accommodation needs their injury left them with.

Solicitors who help people who have suffered life changing injuries have to be specialised, experienced, and expert. A client needing to make a compensation claim after life changing injury should never accept anything short of that. They have already endured so much in sustaining the injury that to be let down by a solicitor not competent to help them when they are so vulnerable is unforgivable.

Specialising, and gaining experience and expertise does not happen overnight. It is hard won and demonstrable. Of course, the road to expertise is a long one and must begin somewhere; but it must begin with the right training, coaching, mentoring and indeed the right oversight from sufficiently specialised, experienced, and expert colleagues who remain responsible for the case until such time as the requisite expertise and experience is gained. The responsibility of specialism, of experience and expertise is real and meaningful.

Clients ought to be able to trust those advising them to cherish and take those responsibilities seriously. After all solicitors have professional duties and regulations to be mindful of. Unfortunately, just as there are good doctors and bad doctors, the same is true for solicitors and indeed all walks of life – and irrespective of regulation.

Whilst all doctors are medically trained, no one would expect a GP to ‘have a go’ at neurosurgery; or a neurosurgeon to have a go at gastroenterology. The specialist training each received in their own area of work and the experience and expertise each gains in that specialist area is key.

The same is true with solicitors. We all studied law; got the qualifications and then trained so as to cover lots of different areas, but increasingly just as medics do, we also tend towards specialisation; and then gain experience and expertise in distinct areas of the law. Gone are the days when the high street solicitor would be having a go at most of the legal problems that landed on their desk.

Yet the personal injury solicitor who takes on a life changing injury claim without being sufficiently specialised, experienced, and expert in that area of work still exists. Perhaps not with malevolence in mind, and perhaps happy (and needing) to perpetuate a delusion that legal economics forces, but still taking a case that professionally and personally (morally) they shouldn’t. Given reform in the personal injury sector it is not too difficult to see how many generalist personal injury solicitors without sufficient specialist experience and expertise might now be tempted and happy to take on work they are perhaps not competent to.

To guard against ending up in the situation the client was in with their original solicitor in the true story outlined above, there are things all prospective clients can do.

  • Ask for recommendations but prioritise those from people who are in the best place to offer an informed view on who might be able to help you. ‘Well intentioned’ is not necessarily ‘well informed’.
  • Social media and websites can be helpful sources of information but can just as easily mislead. There is no substitute for speaking with the solicitor you may want to help you and face to face.
  • Accreditations and awards can be important but aren’t necessarily the final word on whether an individual has sufficient experience and expertise to help you. Testimonials and references (real results) are arguably more important indicators of   genuine first-hand experience, expertise and specialism.
  • When meeting the solicitor ask questions. No genuinely specialist, experienced and expert solicitor will flinch or object to you seeking information from them about their work helping people with life changing injuries. It cannot be faked, winged, or blagged. Asking questions to establish that the solicitor is genuinely right for you will be positively encouraged by any genuine specialist, experienced and expert life changing injuries solicitor.

One final note here: it used to be said that to be a genuinely specialised, experienced expert in this or any other area of work you needed to have grey hair. It is my firm view that if you are good enough you are old enough – but no one can (or should) fake being genuinely specialised, experienced, and expert.

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