“Words cannot express my gratitude to you. I have came across many people,all from different walks of life, but can honestly say with my hand on my precious nannies ashes that you one in a million.
You should be so extremely proud of yourself. Thank you are just words but when they are sent from the heart, I believe that they mean so much more.
May god bless you and your family.’
One of my clients wrote this in an email last week. It made me incredibly proud. It’s always nice to be appreciated, especially because bringing civil claims can be taxing for both claimants and their legal advisers. Defendant lawyers may never understand what it means to bring a civil claim. Most spend their days dealing with insurance company claims handlers, police force representatives, and in-house legal teams. This means that both client and defendant lawyer are experienced professionals comfortable with litigation. Emotions tend to be left out of it. But this means that many defendant lawyers don’t see the whole picture.
Why Claimants Bring Civil Actions
Consider the case of the client who wrote that email. I’m helping her with a civil compensation claim against the police. She’s a fine, upstanding member of the community who has been wronged by the very people she believed were there to protect her. Her faith in the police and judicial system has been shaken to its core. For this reason, it was no small feat for her to put her trust in another branch of the legal system: lawyers.
And yet she did.
My client has a strong sense of justice. She knew what she had to do to get it: instruct a specialist firm of solicitors to pursue a civil claim against the police.
My client was cautious at first. She had to overcome worries about bringing a civil claim and deal with paperwork and other necessities. All this takes time, effort, and persistence. Then add that we did not know each other and had to build a rapport based on mutual trust and understanding. Civil actions against the police can take years. It helps if both client and lawyer get on. Fortunately, we do.
My client opened up to me. She told me about the shame and humiliation she felt when the police mistreated her. She explained how she felt abandoned by the legal system, and how vulnerable and afraid she now feels. Her fear of police officers is real, genuine, and affects her daily life. Every knock on the door causes her to jump. She crosses the street when she sees police officers on patrol. Police car sirens and lights make her heart race. All because police officers crossed the line from enforcing the law to breaking it.
How Claimant Lawyers Help Their Clients
For me, this information is vital. From a work perspective, it helps me maximise her compensation claim and frame her witness statement. But there’s more to it than that. She knows I have her best interests at heart. Knowing how the police’s misconduct affected her means that I am better able to help. When she gets in touch I listen. If she gets frustrated or upset, I am better placed to understand why. Sometimes my client gets teary and emotional when we discuss her claim. If I didn’t know her and her story it would be hard to understand why. Especially when the simplest procedural matters trigger something. Her dreadful experience is still so raw. So, I give her time and space when she needs it, knowing that she’s doing her best to hold it together.
But this behaviour also takes its toll on me and my fellow lawyers working for claimants bringing civil compensation claims. Defendant lawyers rarely deal with such emotion. For them, procedural tricks of the trade designed to delay or deny claims carry little personal consequences. But for my clients those tools can be devastating and set back recovery. Defendant lawyers rarely deal with these human effects. I’m the one who must explain these things and keep my clients going through the tough times as they seek justice. Hard as this is, I’m not complaining. It’s my job. But the role of lawyer-as-counsellor is not something widely known outside the claimant side of the legal profession. It is not a job for which law school can train you. Nor, I suspect, is it a role many defendant lawyers would want.
What Defendant Lawyers Can Learn From This
My message to defendant lawyers is this: your actions have consequences. Put yourself in the claimant’s shoes and think about how your conduct or latest clever email will come across. It’s possible to fearlessly represent your client and act with compassion. Not only will you avoid inflicting unnecessary pain; you may become a better lawyer.
Daniel Fitzsimmons is a Chartered Legal Executive. Contact him here.