When I left University in 2001, and had no better plans other than to follow many of my peers to Law School, I did not think for one second that I would end up with a career in the world of personal injury claims.
It wasn’t until part way through the one-year LPC (Legal Practice Course) at the College of Law in Chester, that the first seeds of my future career were sewn. As part of the course, we were required to choose three ‘elective’ subjects – in addition to the core topics which had to be covered – and, since I had quickly realised that I was neither suited to, nor had any aptitude for, the commercial side of the profession, my decision was restricted to ‘High Street’ law.
Once I had further eliminated anything which I found – or perceived to be – boring, there were only three courses remaining: Employment Law, Family Law, and Personal Injury. Decision made.
I am not sure why I took such an instant dislike to Family Law, but from recollection I found it quite confusing, and feared that working as a Family Lawyer might be stressful – dealing with bitter divorces, custody battles and the like – so I soon vowed that, once the course was over, I would never delve into that area again.
In contrast, I quite enjoyed Employment Law, and perhaps if there had been job opportunities in this sector when I left Chester, I might find myself working as an Employment Solicitor today, but if there were any, I certainly didn’t discover them.
The problem is, when you leave Law School, you then need to secure a two-year ‘training contract’ with a firm before you can qualify, and not knowing anyone in the profession can make this extremely hard.
Of course, some of the very brightest students have already been spotted during their year studying the LPC (or, if they’re very good, they were picked up at University and had their extortionate tuition fees paid for them), so they have a job waiting for them.
Others are fortunate enough to have Daddy play golf every Wednesday afternoon with the senior partner of a big city firm, so they have equally been earmarked for a position, even if they are in reality a chinless, window-licking, moron.
I, unfortunately, did not fall into either camp, and was not attractive enough to sleep my way into a firm (believe me, I got to the point where I would have considered it if I was), so I left Chester with no job, no contacts, and an uncertain future. In total, I spent the summer of 2002 sending out over 100 letters, CVs and applications, and received only a handful of responses – all of which politely declined to even meet me.
After months of being constantly rejected by firms, believe me when I say that any training contract will do, regardless of the area of law it might be in, just so long as you can get your foot onto the professional ladder.
Just as I was beginning to get desperate, I heard about a paralegal position that was available at a firm in Northenden, near Manchester, and although it wasn’t the training contract I was after, I was told that the position could lead to a contract if I sufficiently impressed in the three month probationary period. The firm specialised in personal injury which, although not the legal career I had in mind, it seemed to be the growth area of law and where most of the jobs were. I kept telling myself that I would just get the training contract, stick with personal injury for two years, qualify as a solicitor, and then think about retraining.
What the firm hadn’t told me, was that they had made the same offer to a number of other paralegals that they were hiring at the same time, yet there was only one training contract available between us. Now, I’m not one to shy away from a bit of competition, and as it happens I was ultimately offered the contract at the end of the three months, but I had decided long beforehand that I didn’t want it, and wonder if would still have been offered the position, had I not handed my notice in three minutes earlier.
I had realised, within a matter of weeks of working there, that I wanted out. I won’t go into details of why I took an instant dislike to the Peter Griffin look-a-like Head Partner, but I used to loathe going in to work each day, to the point of feeling physically sick, so I had continued to look for other jobs almost as soon as I had started this one.
Then, out of the blue, I received a phone call from a firm in Altrincham that I had applied to over the summer, and they did now have a vacancy for a training contract – again, subject to a probationary period, but this time the three months would count towards the two year training, so I could still be qualified by November 2004.
Unfortunately, this firm also specialised in personal injury (I say ‘specialised’ but essentially it was the only thing they did), however I needed a training contract desperately, and still naively thought I could retrain after I had qualified.
I won’t bore you with the four years I spent at this second firm, suffice to say I completed my training and qualified in November 2004, but quickly returned to the point where the stress of the job was starting to affect my health, and so I decided it was time to move again. To be honest, some aspects of working for that firm were great, and I made some fantastic friends who I am still in contact with today, but ultimately I had a serious personality clash with one of the partners (the clash being that I had a personality and he didn’t – well, not a likeable one, anyway), so I again started to look for something else.
One day, I spotted an advert in the Law Society Gazette (which, assuming you haven’t read it, must be the most mind-numbingly boring publication ever produced) for a firm hiring in Poynton, where I grew up. Having been for interview, I was offered the job shortly afterwards and I have now been with the firm for nearly nine years. I like the firm, and the people I work with (and I’m not just saying that because some of them will read this), however I am still, thirteen years after leaving Law school, working in the field of personal injury claims… and it’s starting to wear me down.
The first reason for this is the public perception of what we do. People see the headlines about insurance premiums rocketing as a result of accident claims, and they assume that it’s because the Solicitors are raking in exorbitant fees at everyone else’s expense. We are viewed as opportunistic parasites.
The truth, which the press don’t care to reveal, is that all personal injury claims are now restricted to nominal fixed fees, a system which the ABI (Association of British Insurers) lobbied the Government to secure. The idea was that if all fees in personal injury claims were slashed down to a fixed rate, the insurers would be able to pass these savings on to their customers. No matter how much Claimant solicitors argued that this was utter bollocks, it fell on deaf ears and, subsequently, the insurers got their way and the system was introduced two years ago. I don’t know about you, but I’m still waiting for my insurance premiums to stop increasing year on year.
The public view of personal injury claims has now got so bad, that potential new clients are often embarrassed to be seen entering the office, and immediately feel the need to explain that they ‘don’t normally do this sort of thing’, whilst looking over their shoulder as if they have just walked into a sex shop.
The problem, is that the misinformed majority insist on seeing Claimant Solicitors as the bad guys, and believe there is a ‘compensation culture’ sweeping the nation, under which Jeremy Kyle miscreants are out to make a few extra quid for nothing. For years I have argued that the vast majority of Claimants are honest, genuinely-wronged people, who are relying on the system to get them back into the position they were in before an accident which wasn’t their fault – not to try and secure a windfall payout, as the press would have you believe – but it’s getting harder to do that, when I now struggle to convince myself.
The second reason I’m getting fed up with what I do, therefore, is the increasing number of Claimants who insist on trying to prove the press right, and me wrong.
For every one of the people badly hurt in the recent Alton Towers crash, there are at least fifty others who would try to claim their neck hurt from turning to look at the aftermath, badly scarring their fingers on the hot doughnut they were shoving into their face as they watched. You might think I’m joking, but I have genuinely heard worse, and there is an increasing misconception that every accident must be someone’s fault. Take it from a man who injures himself daily – the person at fault is most often you.
The third reason I am becoming increasingly disheartened with my chosen career, is that many of my clients now seem to think they can do the job far better than me. I know personal injury solicitors are not usually seen as ‘proper lawyers’ by most, and I could quite easily train someone to do my job in under a year – rather than the six years I studied hard and amassed mountains of debt in the process – but believe it or not, we do still know more than the vast majority of Claimants.
There isn’t a week that goes by, when a client doesn’t call or e-mail me to complain about the valuation of their damages. “It’s worth more than that” is a phrase I encounter all the time, despite the person in question having no legal training, or the first clue as to how claims are valued using actual law and precedents. They insist on throwing wildly overinflated figures at me, to try and increase the compensation they are expecting, as if I’ll just go along with it.
The irony is, the clients insisting they want £20,000 for their slightly sprained ankle, are usually the very same people who had protested “it isn’t about the money” when we first met. I often remind them of that initial conversation, in the politest terms possible, when what I really want to do is give them an injury to really whine about.
It isn’t just the monetary side of things either. More and more clients are becoming ridiculously impatient, and think the entire process should be completed yesterday. They fail to grasp that there are actual protocols in place which must be adhered to, and they seem to want the cash in their pocket within a week of an accident. I recently spent some time explaining to a client that the Defendant would be allowed eight weeks to investigate the claim before confirming their position. He phoned me TWO days later to complain that he hadn’t heard anything yet. Seriously.
Then, as a fourth reason, there are the clients who expect the impossible. One lady recently complained that she hadn’t heard from me in over six months and her claim was dragging on, but when I explained about all the attempts I had made to contact her, it turned out she had been abroad for most of that time, had moved address and changed her mobile number without telling me, and hadn’t bothered to check her e-mails. What am I supposed to do sweet cheeks, telepathically update you? Or perhaps I should train a carrier pigeon to keep circling the area where you used to live, in the hope it might spot you?
The really worrying thing, is that stupid people tend to procreate with other stupid people, and this will create endless generations of morons who will all view personal injury claims the same way and slowly send me to an early grave.
There are still Claimants out there who have suffered nasty, often life-changing injuries, but who do not complain or tell me how to do my job. These people continue to make it all worthwhile (just) and prevent me from quitting every day. Sadly, however, they are a dwindling minority, and one day all we will have left will be the idiots who have staple-gunned their own face, and want to sue the manufacturer for not warning them that this might be a tad stupid.
I only hope that, by the time that day inevitably comes, I have either retired or won the lottery.