Personal injury

Personal injury

Matt Bacon

Freeths LLP

University: University of Reading
Degree: Law

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 he or she 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.

Although he can’t pinpoint exactly why, law was always where Matt Bacon imagined himself ending up: “I studied it at A level and at university; I just never wanted to do anything else. I’ve always been interested in litigation – I like putting together arguments to see how they play out. I also have some family members in law, so having spoken to them and others, it sounded even more like something I would enjoy.”

Matt secured his training contract at what was then Henmans (although the firm announced its merger with Freeths just a few days later). He benefited from having spent time paralegalling elsewhere, which meant that he was able to knock six months off his training contract as ‘time to count’, and went on to qualify into the defendant personal injury team. “I only do defendant work, and we mainly receive our instructions from insurers or corporate clients that have large self-insured elements of their business”, Matt explains. “I specialise in employers’ liability, covering any accident that occurs at work, public liability and product liability. I’m also involved with defending health and safety prosecutions – so those companies that are prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive as a result of a one-off accident or breaches in relation to health and safety in general.”

As a trainee, Matt enjoyed great exposure to work of this nature and he still works closely with his former supervisor: “Now I have my own caseload, which I run from start to finish, and which involves thinking of my own tactics. It allows me to be more independent with the way I deal with cases. On top of that, I help my supervisor with his cases. Things do ramp up in terms of responsibility when you qualify, but you can always run tactics past your supervisor and there is continued support.”

Tactical advantage

Matt recalls as a highlight his first experience of a case discontinuance – “we presented evidence in defence and the claimant discontinued the claim” – but generally speaking, it is the process of working through a PI matter that provides the everyday satisfaction: “I enjoy when you get a case in and you’re deciding on tactics and formulating the best arguments.” He makes the point that sometimes, the best way forward is not to defend a claim, especially if there is little chance of success and it may be better for the client simply to take it on the chin: “Most clients just want you to be open and honest with your advice; if there isn’t a case to defend, they don’t want to waste money on defending it. Economics plays a big part in what we do and you have to be commercially minded, putting pragmatic business interests first.”

Not unique to PI lawyers, but certainly something with particular resonance to them, the profession is keeping a close eye on changes relating to costs, particularly those of the claimant. “There was a change in legislation a few years ago – and there are others in the pipeline – to make most personal injury claims up to £25,000 subject to fixed costs, so as the lawyer, you would receive a fixed amount as opposed to an hourly fee,” Matt explains. There is also the small claims track for low-value claims, where you can’t usually recover the costs of instructing a lawyer. The government is looking at increasing the claim limit for that from £1,000.”

More generally, lawyers must keep up with clients’ evolving needs and expectations – particularly as these relate to the use of technology – in order to maintain a successful practice: “Especially in light of the changeable economy, clients expect you to be doing the work on the most cost-efficient basis, using all the tech that is available. Every firm has to keep abreast of that now.”

“Being commercial is something to remember; you have to understand your clients’ businesses, establish what they’re looking for and tailor your advice to their particular needs”

Keep cool

Something else that clients want from their legal adviser is the ability to stay both cool under pressure and commercially attuned, as Matt notes: “Given the often very tight timescales, and as you normally have several cases going on at once, you have to remain calm and deal with them all as efficiently as you can. Being commercial is something to remember; you have to understand your clients’ businesses, establish what they’re looking for and tailor your advice to their particular needs. When you’re dealing with insurers, who are very knowledgeable about the law because they handle it every day, your advice has to be pitched at someone who is an experienced user of the legal profession. Conversely, if it’s an individual who is not familiar with the law or the system, you have to adjust your advice to that.”

In order to stand out from the hordes of other would-be lawyers, Matt suggests talking to those already in the profession as a way to learn more and to establish whether it’s right for you: “It’s very important to get yourself out there, so do some work experience and try to meet as many people as possible. Law fairs are another important way of gaining exposure to firm reps, so that when you come to apply, you’re not doing so from a completely blank background. Firms have so many people applying, it’s important you have something that separates you from the pack.”

While you shouldn’t be put off by the levels of competition, you also have to be realistic about your chances: “One thing that didn’t really strike me until I was through the process is how competitive it is and how many people are going for each vacancy; I didn’t get my training contract until after law school and it was a real eye-opener to see how many of us there didn’t have training contracts. I wouldn’t change the way I did it, but it is very competitive and you have to put yourself out there.”

Firms undertaking this work area

More work areas