University: University of Birmingham
Degree: Law and business studies
Personal injury (PI) law falls under the law of tort. It involves civil law cases brought to obtain compensation for injuries sustained, to restore the injured person to the position they would have been in had the injury not happened. The subject matter varies considerably and can range from controversial, high-profile disasters to road traffic accidents to health and safety cases. A related specialised practice area of PI law is clinical negligence, which involves injuries suffered during medical procedures.
Attracted by the idea of working closely with clients, Nimmisha Aslam was always set on becoming a solicitor. After studying the LPC, she volunteered at the Birmingham TUC Centre for the Unemployed for a year and a half, advising clients who couldn’t afford representation. It was this work experience that led her to become a paralegal at Russell-Cooke Solicitors in 2012. In 2016, Nimmisha qualified into the personal injury team after applying for the SRA’s equivalent means exemption scheme.
“I’m a huge advocate for volunteering at places such as Citizen Advice Bureaus,” says Nimmisha, noting her own pro bono efforts as key to her qualifying as a solicitor without undertaking a training contract. “You are given a lot of responsibility when you work at these places. I had even done advocacy in a tribunal against a barrister before I qualified as a solicitor! You don’t get to do those things in a law firm.”
A diverse workload
Nimmisha’s current work in the personal injury team is diverse: “We do everything within PI and clinical negligence, including serious and catastrophic road traffic accidents, accidents at work, abuse claims, criminal injuries claims, birth injuries, misdiagnosis and negligent surgery.” With a caseload of around 60 matters at any given time, she is clear that those looking to pursue this career path must be organised and able to manage varying deadlines. “All lawyers will say that ‘no two cases are the same’,” she comments. “But it really is true. I am always dealing with different types of injuries and clients with differing and unique circumstances.”
The litigious nature of the work means that there is a big focus on evidence, and this involves a lot of investigation on Nimmisha’s part. “I really enjoy the research aspect of my job,” she explains. “It’s about building up a case based on the legal evidence. We gather medical records and review them. We instruct experts – not just medical experts – but engineers, accountants and employment experts too. After the investigation, we will put together a strategy of how we’re going to win the case.”
You need to be able to empathise with your clients. You will be dealing with people who have often suffered a great deal of trauma.
Empathy is key
A crucial skill for personal injury lawyers is empathy. As Nimmisha clarifies, “you need to be able to empathise with your clients. You will be dealing with people who have often suffered a great deal of trauma. For some of them, they have experienced the worst possible thing in their lives. They’re going to come to you in a very vulnerable state, so you need to be able to manage that.”
A memorable moment in Nimmisha’s career to date was her first inquest in 2017, which involved assisting a client whose brother had died from a misplaced major gastric tube. Working pro bono, Nimmisha represented the client in the inquest and settled the attached clinical negligence case quickly. “The highlight was being able to help the client,” she says. “It meant a lot to the family to represent them and give them some closure.”
Nimmisha is also currently acting for a number of Grenfell Tower victims and families in their civil claims. “The group action has been very interesting to work on,” she says. “I am accustomed to dealing with clients who have suffered trauma. This is the crux of the work we do. However, very rarely have I acted for a group of clients who have suffered a tragedy which profoundly affects nearly every aspect of their daily lives.”
Changes on the horizon
In recent months, the coronavirus pandemic has seen Nimmisha’s work evolve, with court deadlines and hearings being moved online. She explains that she was involved in virtual hearings at the Supreme Court earlier in the year, and that her colleague recently participated in the first High Court clinical negligence trial to take place remotely. “It will be interesting to see how this will work moving forward,” she says, musing if this might be a long-term innovation within the justice system. “Virtual hearings can be easier to arrange than physical ones, and can save in costs.”
Aside from an increasingly digital workload, Nimmisha also describes the disruption that could come from the government’s planned reforms for fixed recoverable costs in clinical negligence cases. “If the government brings in fixed costs, this could make a huge difference to how our cases are run in the future.” She explains that clinical negligence cases can be expensive as they often involve paying experts for reports. If firms aren’t confident they can recover their reasonable costs and expenses as they currently do, they may be less likely to take these kinds of cases. “Where will that leave our clients?” she asks. “I am concerned that clients who have lower value negligence cases will not be able to get access to justice.” With no answers just yet and a government review underway, it remains to be seen what impact these changes might have.
Overall, Nimmisha is keen to acknowledge that she is lucky to have fallen into an area of the law that she really enjoys. “There isn’t anything routine about my work, so I never get bored,” she says. But in hindsight, she recommends that students thinking about their own legal career should do some thorough research. “A career as a solicitor is a lengthy one, so spend some time doing the background work to establish what area of law you want to specialise in. It’s important to enjoy what you do. I am motivated and passionate about my work every day, and I don’t take that for granted.”