Mr. Blog

Earlier this week, my Facebook page reached 500 likes, and I’m rather chuffed (or at least I was, until I realised a friend of my wife has over 25,000 Twitter followers…)

As my readership continues to grow at an alarming speed (alarming only in its sluggishness), I feel the need to recap slightly for those just joining us.

I am 38 years old, and a father of two boys (although I panicked recently at a comedy club, when asked by the comedian how old my children are, and having answered to the room that they are eight and four, he then asked me if I have one of each – to which my mind went blank, and I answered ‘yes’, assuming he meant one child aged eight, and one aged four).

I am married (sorry ladies – or gents who are that way inclined) and my wife is a teacher, which means she will be skipping around the house this evening, because her school is breaking up today until September, and the quota of obnoxious children she must deal with on a daily basis will drop considerably – from a couple of thousand, to just our two little shits.

For those of you not in education, let me assure you that, when a teacher protests – as is so often the case – that they earn this six-week summer break (longer in some cases), they really fucking earn it. This goes for all teachers (apart from maybe P.E. teachers, who, from recollection, largely do bugger all).

When I look at our two boys, and some of the other miscreants in the playground each morning, I can only sympathise with primary school teachers, and offer them my sincere gratitude for giving the rest of us a break each day. They deserve every single second of this summer holiday (together with a lovely present from all the children in their class – and, if you happen to be organising this for your child’s teacher, my suggestion would be all the alcohol you can feasibly carry, and a cushion to scream into, ready for September. Failing that, cold hard cash). Primary school teachers are saints.

In contrast, my wife teaches at an all-boys secondary school, but she – along with her colleagues – deserve just as much admiration and respect (apart from the P.E. department). Ok, they may not face the same imminent danger of being pissed or shit on that their primary school counterparts risk each day; but by secondary school this has been replaced by the very real possibility of being beaten up by an irate pupil instead.

Along with doctors, nurses, our armed forces, and the guy whose job it is to fit indicators to BMW cars (poor, pointless bastard), teachers deserve our utmost admiration for the often thankless work that they do.

I, on the other hand, work as a personal injury solicitor, and in contrast we are almost universally disliked. In fact, as far as Joe Public is concerned, we are only slightly higher up the popularity ladder than politicians, tax inspectors and traffic wardens. And people seem to listen to Joe Public (even though he strikes me as a bit of a prick at times).

Look, being a personal injury solicitor is not what I set out to do for a living, and I’m not particularly proud of it, but I worked damn hard to secure my law degree (and qualifications thereafter), and it pays the bills – so, for now, it is my life.  If I could change my occupation, I would, but I do (generally) like my colleagues, and we personal injury lawyers are not all ambulance-chasing predators like the press would have you believe. Just wait until you actually need one of us (and I pray you never do) before making your mind up.

Anyway, it will come as no shock that, if I had my way, I would write for a living. I love nothing more than making people laugh, and since I don’t have the confidence (or the material) to go into stand-up comedy, this right here is my passion. Posting on my blog every Friday, and uploading quirky little bits and pieces to my Facebook page in between, really gets me through the week. Nothing makes me happier than finding something amusing, then discovering lots of you do as well.

You may think that, with ‘only’ 500 followers after a few years of writing, I am largely wasting my time – and you would probably be right – but truth be told, I was just as happy writing my blog when I had a fraction of that number (although, having said that, if my readership did suddenly multiply overnight to tens of thousands, I wouldn’t complain).

Unfortunately, only those bloggers who amass a serious following can hope to make a living out of it, and with two young kids to feed and clothe, and a wife with a shoe-addiction to cater for, I cannot afford any career changes just yet.

Besides, whilst I have only really practised Personal Injury litigation since qualifying as a Solicitor, at least it’s not dull. Ok, corporate law at a city firm is where the big money is, but it strikes me as incredibly dull, and at least – to a certain extent – working as a PI lawyer does offer some comedic potential.

It’s not that I would ever laugh at a client’s injury (well, not often), but sometimes, every once in a while, you encounter a real character. Someone, almost so obscure or ludicrous in their personality, mannerisms or actions, that they might as well be one of the Mr Men.

In fact, if we ignore the obvious personal injury associations with the likes of Mr Bump and Mr Clumsy, then I can more or less give you a real life example from my sixteen years in the job, for most of the others (whilst preserving client confidentiality, obviously). I’ll just select a few though…

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Some would argue that all personal injury claimants are greedy, but the law is designed to recompense those who have been genuinely injured as a result of negligence, to restore them to the position they should have been in, had the injury never occurred.

However, one client, many years ago, phoned me having received the medical report which detailed his minor back injury (of six months’ duration), to explain that he had watched a documentary on injury litigation in the United States, and had valued his own case at £1.5m. I had to let him down gently (by asking him to write out £1,500,000 on a piece of paper, and then start removing zeros until he reached £1,500).

Also known as: Mr Unrealistic Expectations

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Ok, it’s a different interpretation of the word ‘wrong’, but I once had a client phone me and throughout the call he sounded distracted and his voiced strained. After a full ten minutes of discussing his case, I then heard a flushing sound, and he asked me to hang on a second while he ‘wiped’. Now, that’s just plain wrong (bear in mind he phoned me).

I didn’t stay on the line long enough to discover whether he was also Mr Messy.

Also known as: Mr Inappropriate

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The client who complained, after just four weeks, that his case was ‘dragging on’.

Also known as: Mr Impatient Prick

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Not everyone knows the phonetic alphabet, and some of the ‘alternatives’ I hear are often comedic, but one particular client, whilst trying to spell his own surname, suffered a bout of impromptu Tourette’s: “S for…..erm…. shit…. sorry that’s all I could think of. T for…. damn…. erm….. twat? So sorry about this. My mind has gone blank….” I stopped him when he got to ‘C’.

Also known as: Mr Sweary Pants

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I was once approached outside the office by a creepy looking man, in a long black trench coat, who asked if I could arrange a restraining order for him. Apparently, my negative response did not dissaude him, and he went on to explain he was a satanist, and wanted a restraining order against ‘all Christians’. Seriously.

When I explained that I am in fact a personal injury solicitor, he then questioned whether that meant I had lots of photographs of really nasty injuries – and mutilations – in my office, before letting out a groan like he was aroused.

Also known as: Mr Fucking Creepy

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How about the elderly gentleman, who, when asked for photographs of the pothole which caused his accident (to see if we could accept his case), chose to also send me rather graphic shots of his mangled penis?

When asked for an explanation (bearing in mind I had spoken to him just once), he told me that, at the time of his fall, he had gone to collect the morning newspaper in just a dressing gown, and when he tripped it had flown open. For a few, glorious seconds, he had soared through the air (very much like a flying squirrel, I should imagine), before crash landing, his shrivelled old man junk making sweet love to the pavement as he skidded to a stop.

Also known as: Mr Geriatric Exhibitionist

Mr Happy

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I am yet to discover a client who fits this one.

Oh, and before I go, let’s not forget the females…

Little Miss Naughty

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I once had a client who wanted to pursue a claim against the care home where she worked, but not only was liability for her accident denied, her personnel file revealed an unexpected twist. Seemingly, the care home in question had one particular resident who was notorious for asking female members of staff to – for want of a better phrase – pleasure him.

Naturally, most had politely declined – except for my client, who was caught mid-act, and promptly dismissed by her employers on the spot (before becoming, very swiftly, an ex-client).

Also known as: Little Miss Woodpecker

And that’s just a small selection of the people I encounter on a daily basis, so I think I have earned a bloody holiday too.

Fortunately, we’re going away next week, so there won’t be a blog entry next Friday, but – fear not – I’ll be back the week after.

Unlike all those sodding teachers.

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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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