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What is your role?
I am a director at Birchall Blackburn Law, a law firm with over 250 employees and offices in nine locations throughout the North West. As a member of the board of directors, I am responsible for strategy and business planning. My responsibilities as head of the medical and clinical negligence team involve dealing with complex cases, negotiating settlements, training and development of all team members.
Why did you become a solicitor?
At school, I was always involved in plays and I loved the excitement of drama and public speaking. Working in the law is an area that has both, so it seemed an ideal choice! In 1996 I qualified as a barrister and was really lucky to get a position as an in-house barrister, for a large North West regional firm in Manchester, specialising in medical negligence. The role involved advocacy and drafting legal documents but, as the time moved on, I started undertaking more and more of the functions of a solicitor so it made sense to also qualify as a solicitor in 2000.
Where is the best place to go if you want to find out what is really going on in the office?
Well, now there’s a tough question. Although we have excellent communication in the office, if I am honest there is no substitute for taking time out of your day to go to the staff room to find out what’s going on. Other than that, I am not revealing my sources!
What is the best thing about your job?
There is no greater satisfaction than settling a clinical negligence case and knowing that it’s going to make a difference to my client’s life and to those around them. Damages often help fund rehabilitation, accommodation, care or maybe even future surgery. The added bonus is that I get to do this whilst working with my amazing team members.
What is the toughest thing about your job?
Unfortunately, I have seen some terrible injuries and illnesses that have occurred as a result of misdiagnosis or incorrect treatment. Mistakes happen and not all are negligent, but seeing an avoidable injury is upsetting. The Government’s new proposals on transparency within the health service should help redress this. I’ve dealt with a lot of cancer misdiagnosis claims and witnessing the often un-necessary suffering of my clients and their families is emotionally tough but merely hardens my determination to get them the best possible outcome on their case.
Who has been the biggest influence in your career to date?
I won’t name them as they would be embarrassed, but I assisted a partner for many years who demonstrated that understanding and compassion are essential tools for all good solicitors and for management. They instilled in me the need to listen to your colleagues and team members.
What’s the most interesting case you have dealt with?
I settled a case for £2.5 million a few years ago, in which a man’s spine was fractured as a result of failing to diagnose Tuberculosis. If untreated the condition weakens the spine. My client suffered a fall and fractured his spine leaving him paralysed from his chest down. The case involved extensive complex legal arguments on the value of the case as he was a relatively young man. As a result of our success in achieving the high level of damages, we were able to use the money to purchase a property, fund care and equipment that would help him and his family regain their lives. Although he will require extensive care throughout his life, at least the money is available to meet those needs.
What has been the greatest achievement in your professional life to date?
Regardless of the amount of damages I secure for my clients, every time we achieve a successful outcome I consider it a great achievement and there have been so many career highs in this regard that I couldn’t pick just one.
Where do you see your firm in five to 10 years? What are the biggest challenges you will face?
Birchall Blackburn Law is going from strength to strength and I see it at the forefront of the provision of niche, customer led legal services. The creation of ABSs and the new corporate entities entering the legal market inevitably means that there will be number of huge changes to the traditional model for law firms. I think one of our biggest challenges will be to keep moving forward whilst still retaining the characteristics that have always set us apart from our competitors.
Which person outside the legal sector do you most admire?
Although I work in the area of medical negligence, I have a huge admiration for the dedicated doctors, nurses and healthcare workers in the NHS. They work tirelessly with care and compassion despite the pressures of staffing and funding cuts.
What would you have been if you weren’t a lawyer?
That’s easy too. I have seen so many clients and family members affected by cancer that I would have trained as a doctor specialising as an oncologist. It’s a hugely demanding job where the outcomes are not always positive, but it’s vitally important in relieving the suffering of the very ill.
What would you advise lawyers beginning their legal career today?
Today’s lawyers need to be equipped to work in an extremely competitive, fast-evolving and customer-focused environment. So, I would advise those starting their career to get as much work experience as possible by signing up for vocational schemes, work placements and mini-pupillages. Use these opportunities to develop the key skills of communication, attention to detail and customer care. Also, be ambitious and willing to embrace change and innovation in the delivery of legal services.