Every Blog Has Its Day

This week’s entry is being hurriedly typed the day before, because I feel the need to tell you about the legal conference I attended on Wednesday.

I know what you are thinking, and, yes, finding the humour in a legal conference, is about as likely as finding an immigrant at the UKIP Christmas Party; but I found it, and I want to share it with you. Besides, I had bugger all else to write about this week.

I only found out that I would be accompanying my boss to the annual *firm name removed* Conference that morning, by which time I could not make any alternative arrangements for getting there and back – I had no choice but to drive into Manchester.

This wouldn’t normally bother me, but I knew there was a drinks reception and meal later in the evening, and if there is one thing you need to survive a stuffy legal conference, filled with sinfully boring lawyers (I feel justified in making this generalisation, for I am one), it is the numbing properties of alcohol. If you can imagine undergoing root canal surgery without anaesthetic, then attending a legal conference without booze is very much the same: it is always preferable to be completely numb (and, if possible, unconscious).

As I parked up outside the rather lavish hotel, desperately trying to avoid hitting the very expensive-looking Bentley and Audi on either side of my filthy went-to-Norfolk-at-the-weekend-and-the-kids-destroyed-it VW, I decided this was not going to be a fun day.

Having signed in, I attached my hastily-prepared name badge (they had to re-write it, when I explained that my surname is not, in actual fact, ‘whore’), and was then told of all the excitement the organisers had planned, starting with the opportunity to ‘network’ (verb: to walk around talking to boring people you don’t like, whilst trying to sound interested).

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Better still (sarcasm), each time you visited one of the twenty or so businesses dotted around the room – and, by way of illustration, the most interesting (by some margin) was the company selling photocopiers and office furniture – you got a little stamp in your book. Then, at the end of the day, the person with the most stamps would win a prize. Hooray, we were back at school.

Adopting my very finest fuck this attitude, I did eventually (and reluctantly) go and speak to a few businesses, but only because there is a limit to how much Facebook you can check on your phone before people start to notice, and also because I was drawn to their shiny freebies, like a kleptomaniac magpie.

I collected a power pack and plug-in fan for my phone (for those times when you need to make an important call, but find yourself both low on battery and warm of chin), only to discover that the various ‘universal’ connectors didn’t apply to my particular Samsung.  Silly me for having only the second largest selling phone on the planet. Ah well, it was probably for the best, as the fan would have lacerated my face at some point anyway.

Despite succumbing to their enforced business socialising, I did however manage an uncharacteristic act of defiance, by refusing to secure a single stamp in my little book (only to rue my rebellion later on, when I discovered the prize for collecting the most stamps was £100 of Amazon vouchers).

As an additional dollop of salt, into the fresh wound that was my increasingly disappointing day, I then discovered that the Manchester United squad (plus Jose Mourinho) were apparently having a pre-match get together in the next room, and the Bentley I had carefully avoided in the car park, probably belonged to one of them. Opportunity missed.

Having survived the hour-long networking session – which, in my opinion, was 59 minutes longer than necessary, but improved slightly by a buffet lunch that was not only tasty, but which offered the perfect excuse to become temporarily mute – we were then called into the large conference space.

The layout immediately struck me as ‘Wedding reception meets Tory Party Conference’, as there were several white linen tables, encircling a stage adorned with glass podium, pale blue uplighting, and the overwhelming stench of snobbery.

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Once we had taken our seats, and following some rather awkward introductions from the host firm – which involved no fewer than four people, who took it in turns to introduce one another, and then say the same thing, amid short blasts of music between them – it was time for the main event.

Following a brief cacophony of what I believe was Coldplay, the first session involved one lawyer ‘interviewing’ another, in a Parkinson-esque chat show format. This was actually quite entertaining, but only because the interviewer didn’t care what he said – although even I winced at the Fred ‘The Weatherman’ Talbot joke, which alluded to his extra-curricular activities with boys, during his time at Altrincham Grammar School in the 1970’s.

Next, after some deafening R&B, came a Q&A session – which was set up like a ‘Comic Con’ film panel, only without any interesting guests, subject matter, or questions. In fact, all the panel really achieved, was taking it in turns to talk about their own achievements, to try and seem more successful than the speaker before them.

“Everyone says how down to earth I am.”

With me, what you see, is what you get.”

“Yes, well, I made Partner at 27, something which is unheard of at our firm.”

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What made this even more unbearable, was the irritating woman sat next to me (you should never judge a lady by her age or size, so let’s just say she was mildly old, and mildly fat), who kept making inaudible comments under her breath, then chuckling away to herself.

To her right, were a couple from the same firm, and the sexual tension between them was frankly nauseating. Not only that, they had decided it would be appropriate to go to the bar beforehand, and bring cocktails in with them (honestly, he was drinking something with fruit in it, and she had a fucking Mojito). They then proceeded to chat loudly over all of the speakers, to the point everyone began staring.

Just when I thought our table could not get any worse, a *lady* arrived approximately 45 minutes late, made a very loud entrance (in a red dress that was way too short for someone clearly flirting with the menopause), and decided to plonk herself directly opposite me.

No sooner had she dropped her suitcase – yes, suitcase – under the table (by this point, I was certain she was a travelling prostitute), she stood back up, walked to the side of the stage in front of the entire audience, and plugged her phone into a socket to charge it.

Our table was honestly so embarrassing, I started looking for the hidden cameras, to see which prank show I was about to be a part of, and which of the characters around our table would turn out to be Ant and/or Dec in prosthetic make-up.

Shortly after 6pm, the conference was brought to a blessed close (despite an advertised finish of 5.15pm), but I still had the *pleasure* of the drinks reception and three course meal. Normally, I would have attacked the free bar with reckless abandon, to forget the horror of the previous three hours, but a free bar when you have to drive home, is like an all-you-can-eat buffet when your jaw has been wired shut.

Thankfully, after an hour of bonus networking (“I don’t feel I adequately explained how brilliant I am earlier, so I must find new victims to impress…”), we were called back into the conference room for dinner.

Then, when I thought the evening could not possibly get any more excruciating, the organisers had decided it would be *fun* to implement a seating plan and mix everyone up, separating those from the same firms.

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As a result, whilst my boss was on Table 7, I ended up on Table 10, with people I did not know, but felt sure I would instantly dislike.

As it happens, my dinner companions were all a vast improvement on our earlier table (lump was on the other side of the room, the cocktail couple were almost certainly naked somewhere, and red dress had presumably moved on to her evening job), but I was sat with people who all appeared to be in the mood for drinking, while discussing such enthralling topics as ‘so, what does your firm do?’

Fortunately, the lady to my right, who took no time in informing me she was on her first night out following the birth of her daughter three months earlier (at a legal conference – she knew how to party), was pleasantly entertaining. I’ll admit she lost me slightly, when she revealed the rather pretentious name she had given her daughter, but compared to Mr Stuffy (of Stuffy, Dullard & Boring), she was an increasingly drunken source of amusement.

My slightly-improved mood was then promptly ruined again, when the starter arrived. Look, I shouldn’t be ungrateful for a three course meal I hadn’t paid for, but who on earth thinks ‘Smoked Trout Mousse with Cucumber Jelly Cubes’ is appealing? Ok, lawyers can be pompous arseholes at times, but it takes a particularly obscure palate to salivate at what was essentially Fishy Porridge.

The main course, whilst a little cheesy for my own liking, was at least geared to the masses, as was the chocolate dessert, but nothing went down quite as well as the complimentary wine. Since I was obviously not partaking, I grew weary of the evening quite rapidly once the meal was over, and made my excuses to leave.

Even the entertainment of the prize draw (which saw one thoroughly-unimpressed man win a huge teddy bear), and the fact the two ladies hosting the evening had inadvertently worn exactly the same dress (much to their obvious disgust), was not enough to retain my interest, so I headed out to retrieve my runt-of-the-litter VW, from a car park that looked like a particularly extravagent episode of Top Gear.

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As a final insult, I knew United had already kicked off, which meant none of the remaining cars belonged to any players (they don’t strike me as the sort to car share), so I couldn’t even key one of the doors as I left.

And they bloody won.

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The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nothing But The Truth, So Help Me Blog

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.

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