Associate at Barcan+Kirby, Bristol
Having gone into nursing after leaving school, I took a career break to start a family – and it was while studying with the Open University that my interest in law grew. I discovered that the OU had just introduced the LLB. I read through the course content with growing excitement as I’d finally found a subject that deeply interested me.
After completing my degree, I co-produced a master’s degree in health law for Salford University’s European Law research centre. The course was distance-learning, so I could work from home, which fitted around my family commitments. However, teaching law was not for me, so I trained to be a solicitor at Barcan Woodward, now Barcan+Kirby LLP, where I am now an associate.
I did not find my legal training difficult in terms of the drive to study, as I was so interested in the subject. The hard part was fitting in the study around my four small children. I remember getting up at 4am to complete an assignment before they woke up. The other hard part was studying the LPC alongside a full-time role as a paralegal.
There are certainly similarities between the roles of nurse and solicitor. Both involve working with vulnerable people who have suffered an injury or loss, and/or their families, who depended on my skills to help them through a difficult time in their lives.
As a nurse, excellent patient care and understanding are central to everything you do – and I naturally bring the skills I learnt as a nurse into my role as a solicitor. It helps that I have had considerable experience of dealing with people in difficult situations. I get immense fulfilment from achieving a satisfactory outcome.
The hardest cases in my experience are the ones involving the avoidable death of a child or young adult. The consequences for the family are devastating and a successful outcome from a litigation perspective is a double-edged sword. Despite this, many people seek our expertise because they want justice for their loved one and to ensure that whatever happened does not happen to someone else, so the death is not entirely in vain. I think it is true to say that most people are not looking for compensation in these situations, although this is the ultimate goal of the claim.
In certain, often tragic situations where damages are limited, the cost of investigating the claim will vastly outweigh the compensation
A standout moment was assisting a truly inspirational client. Her delayed diagnosis of sepsis led to the amputation of one leg and the knowledge that she would become a bilateral amputee within three years. Despite all she had been through, she created and ran a hospitality business from her wheelchair. It was brilliant to be able to settle her case so that she had enough funding to purchase decent prosthetic legs to enable her to walk and swim again. This was an activity she loved but had been unable to continue with her NHS prosthesis.
Where an individual dies because of clinical negligence, the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 limits the people entitled to a bereavement award. If there is no dependency claim or bereavement award, then if the person’s death was not preceded by a long period of illness, the claim has minimal value. In April 2013, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 amended the CPR which now provides that, ‘costs which are disproportionate in amount may be disallowed or reduced even if they were reasonably or necessarily incurred…’
In certain, often tragic situations where damages are limited, the cost of investigating the claim will vastly outweigh the compensation. This makes costs disproportionate and recovery of the majority of those costs unlikely. These two provisions now make it virtually impossible to help many families. I would like to see one or the other of these laws change, because the dual effect reduces access to justice for many people.
I think I would have missed nursing if I was not practising in clinical negligence. The clinical settings which form the backdrop to our work, alongside the contact with people, keep me connected to my previous career.
I am far more likely to be asked for legal advice these days, mainly because many of my friends are health professionals, so they answer the health questions. I’m not expected to have a lot of medical knowledge anymore, which is amusing given the depth of understanding of medical matters required in my work.