When you are making any kind of legal claim, choosing your legal representatives is a very important decision. Your choice of solicitor can make a huge difference; it could mean the difference between a well-handled case and a shambolic ordeal, success and failure – the right compensation and a missed opportunity for justice.
We have written about the importance of making this decision yourself in our guide: 7 steps to choosing the right solicitor. But, if anything, choosing the right solicitor is even more crucial when making a clinical negligence claim. This is because the stakes are often much higher, with injuries that are usually more severe and which could have a drastic effect on your life.
Whatever you have suffered as a result of clinical negligence however, you need to seek advice from a specialist clinical negligence solicitor. Clinical negligence claims are frequently complicated and to conduct one correctly requires specialised legal skills and experience which go beyond those needed for more conventional personal injury claims.
So with this in mind, we’ve written this additional guide to specifically help with finding the right clinical negligence solicitor for you.
Do I have to choose a specialist clinical negligence solicitor?
There is no law to say you can only engage a solicitor who specialises in clinical negligence to conduct your claim. But there is also no law to say you have to get your conservatory built by a professional builder.
When you instruct a lawyer, you are essentially hiring the skill and knowledge of that lawyer to enforce your rights. You rely on their expertise to steer you correctly through an often confusing and complicated world, confident that they will be acting in your best interests.
So why would you choose a lawyer whose skills were not specifically tailored to the claim you were looking to make? To do so would be to choose (or accept) an inferior service. After all, even if your claim has already been allocated to a firm of solicitors, you always have the right to switch solicitors if you wish to do so.
Will a specialist clinical negligence solicitor cost more?
You might be concerned that a specialist solicitor will cost you more money than one who is not as well-qualified. However, through a ‘No Win, No Fee Agreement’, if you are successful in your claim, the majority of your costs will be paid by the other side. Some of your compensation will be deducted to contribute to your legal fees but this is the normal way in which ‘No Win, No Fee Agreements’ operate. Furthermore, by using a specialist you increase your chances of successfully recovering compensation anyway.
If you are unsuccessful in your claim then, a ‘No Win, No Fee’ Agreement means there will be no fee to pay, except in rare circumstances.
As such, in real terms, you are likely to see little to no difference in the cost you incur whether you use a specialist or not. The actual differences come in respect of how your case is handled and your chances of receiving the correct level of compensation.
How can I find a genuine specialist clinical negligence solicitor?
There are many solicitors out there who claim to be specialists in clinical negligence. However, not all of them have the proficiency you would expect from a genuine specialist.
In particular, some solicitors who have been handling personal injury claims for many years are now trying to branch out into clinical negligence claims. Although there are some similarities between the two areas of law, personal injury experience does not equate to clinical negligence experience. Clinical negligence is unique, and the issues involved are very different from those encountered in claims for, say, an accident at work or a road traffic accident.
Here are two key steps to take when assessing whether a lawyer is a specialist in clinical negligence:
- Look them up on The Law Society’s solicitor database. Under their entry will be a sub-heading named ‘Areas of Practice’. If clinical negligence does not appear in this list then you should not consider them suitable to handle your claim further. If you cannot find the individual you are searching for on the database, it is possible that they are not a qualified solicitor.
- Check whether or not they are accredited by a recognised professional body. If the solicitor is a member of Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) or the Law Society’s Clinical Negligence Panel, they will have been required to prove certain criteria in order to join. These include proof that they have handled a sufficient number of cases and achieved an appropriate number of successful cases.
AvMA is a UK charity set up to increase patient safety and seek justice for those affected by medical accidents. Their solicitor accreditation program acts as a mark of quality for specialist clinical negligence solicitors who have achieved it.
Specialists within a specialism?
To make things a little more complicated, solicitors who specialise in clinical negligence can also have their own specialities within the field. This is certainly something to consider when choosing the right clinical negligence solicitor. If a solicitor has experience in handling claims which involve similar injuries to the ones you have suffered (or which involve similar causes of those injuries) this can add further expertise to the conduct of your claim.
For example, Gary Warriner is the Head of the Clinical Negligence team at Truth Legal. He is a member of AvMA and has been successfully recovering compensation for victims of clinical negligence for over 30 years. During that time he has developed particular specialisms in
- Misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis claims
- Orthopaedic injury claims
- Hospital negligence claims
- Surgery negligence claims
Try to find an online profile of the solicitor in question to discover the specific areas of clinical negligence in which they might have experience. Before instructing them, ask them whether they have dealt with any clinical negligence cases in the past which are similar to yours.
Do I have to choose a local solicitor?
You should not feel obliged to instruct a solicitor close to you. Sometimes using a local firm may be an advantage, particularly if your solicitor will be travelling to see you at key points during the case or if you are required to attend the solicitor’s office. However, the priority is for you to instruct a solicitor who is best equipped to deal with your clinical negligence claim; their location should always be a secondary consideration.
Will specialist clinical negligence solicitors deal with my claim faster than others?
The time it takes to a complete a clinical negligence claim is dependent on many things, such as the extent of your injuries, how long they take to heal, and how co-operative the party you are claiming from might be.
So it is not always true that a specialist solicitor will be able to resolve your claim quicker than a non-specialist. However, using a specialist almost certainly means your claim will be handled more effectively, and this serves to eliminate any unnecessary delays. An inexperienced legal representative can easily slow down your claim if they mishandle it. In more extreme situations, mishandling a claim may even constitute professional negligence on the lawyer’s part.
Truth Legal has taken over conduct of several cases where a non-specialist firm has caused long, needless delays to a client’s claim. Whilst we are always ready to step in and help clients in these situations, in our experience, it is far better to instruct an expert clinical negligence solicitor from the outset and avoid such delays in the first place.
Can Truth Legal help you?
If you are thinking of starting a clinical negligence claim, or you wish to switch your existing claim to a specialist clinical negligence solicitor, we are more than willing to discuss matters with you. Please do not hesitate to contact us and speak to a member of our highly experienced clinical negligence team.