What to expect from your solicitor
So, what should you expect from your solicitor? As with any service, quality can vary from solicitor to solicitor and from firm to firm – it can be hard to gauge whether the level of service you and your child are receiving is the norm. What even is the norm? Instructing a solicitor to pursue a child brain injury claim is not something people regularly do, so they rarely have any previous experience to go by. Here’s the truth: you really are entitled to receive the best service for your child so that you can achieve the optimum outcome for them. And along the way, to be compassionately and expertly guided and supported through the litigation process. But what does that look like?
I thought it would be helpful to write a blog about what parents should expect from the solicitors they instruct to bring compensation claims on behalf of their children following a brain injury. I do so from my perspective as head of the Child Brain Injury team at Bolt Burdon Kemp (“BBK”).
It’s crucial from the outset to instruct a solicitor who has specific expertise and a strong reputation in Child Brain Injury. My colleague, Caroline Klage set up the 20 strong specialist Child Brain Injury team at BBK in 2014. We are passionate about acting exclusively for children with brain injury and their parents and we have achieved exceptional results for our clients, including one of the highest ever birth injury settlements of around £33 million.
Specialist solicitors such as my team have an excellent understanding not only of the applicable law, but also of the evolving and complex needs of children with brain injury including specialist care and case management, therapy, education, equipment (including vehicles), holidays and accommodation.
We also understand the needs of the family, indeed child brain injury can have a far reaching and devastating impact on family life and often, parents and siblings will need support too, something which can all too often be overlooked. We have accessed therapy for parents and siblings, as well as private tutoring for siblings, where their parents’ attention has unavoidably been diverted by the needs and demands of their brain injured child, all funded through interim payments of compensation.
Ultimately, specialist solicitors will be best placed to ensure your child’s claim is accurately quantified and proven, by collating the necessary evidence and bringing on board well-respected key expert witnesses and barristers, so that any settlement achieved has the best chance of meeting your child’s lifelong needs.
Understanding, kindness and compassion
Parents of children with brain injury have gone through the worst trauma imaginable. They have almost always experienced a situation in which they feared for their child’s life and/or have witnessed their child come to serious harm. This trauma is then compounded by the fallout caused by brain injury, including having to meet and come to terms with the complex and evolving needs of their child. This is a huge additional demand, layered on top of also trying to hold down a job to maintain financial security for the family whilst trying to provide emotional and practical support to siblings. Parents in these situations deserve huge respect and must be treated with understanding, kindness and compassion.
Specialist brain injury solicitors will understand the trauma, stresses and strains faced by parents. They will seek to alleviate these where they can, for example, by applying for early interim payments of compensation wherever possible (pending a final settlement). Such funds can help replace lost earnings and contribute to family income, fund therapy for parents and siblings and put in place a package of care and therapy for the brain injured child that will support parents with some of their caring duties, freeing them up to work, to take a much needed break or to spend more time with their other children, whilst their brain injured child receives specialist support to promote their rehabilitation.
The ability to listen
No two families are the same. It is only by listening carefully to parents that it is possible to fully understand the true nature and extent of a child’s needs and the resulting challenges they and their families face as a result of the brain injury. Once they are fully understood, explained and evidenced, for example, through witness statements supported by video and photograph evidence, experts can make recommendations as to how to meet those needs and address the challenges faced by that family. Such recommendations might include the provision of specialist care, therapy, equipment and accommodation.
The best solicitors will actively listen to parents to ensure they get this right. We like to visit our clients and their families at home so we can see our clients and their families in their home environments. People often feel more comfortable and able to share what can be difficult and sensitive issues when at home. We will dedicate time to such meetings, so parents do not feel rushed into telling us about the challenges of their daily lives and their concerns both now and for the future. If parents are not listened to carefully and patiently and are unable to express their concerns fully, then there is a risk that any settlement will not properly meet their child’s needs.
Accessibility and good communication
Your solicitor should be accessible and should respond to questions you ask within a reasonable time frame – I try to reply to my clients’ parents on the same day, wherever possible. We tend to work in teams, meaning there’s always someone who knows your child well enough to respond to your queries promptly, even during holiday periods.
You should be able to communicate with your legal team in the way which suits you best, be that email, letter, Zoom, telephone, WhatsApp, text etc. All of our team have both landline and mobile telephone numbers that you can make direct contact with them on, as well as email.
Your solicitor should communicate clearly and calmly, using plain English. Some of the concepts in litigation can be complicated, but a skilled solicitor will be able to explain them to you in plain terms and if you struggle to understand anything, they should always take the time, effort and care to provide any further clarification you need.
Sometimes, during the course of a claim, your solicitor may have to explain something to you or provide advice to you that is difficult for you to hear or accept. However, they should do so clearly but sensitively and take the time to listen to your point of view.
Incidentally, it is these core communication skills that will enable your solicitor to present your child’s claim clearly, persuasively and compellingly to the defendant(s) and to the court.
Thoughtful management of the process, respecting deadlines
During the litigation process, your solicitor may ask you to consider documents which will contain upsetting and sometimes triggering content. This can include for example witness statements which set out the details leading up to the brain injury, or medical reports which set out the nature and extent of your child’s injuries, their implications and the resulting complex needs of your child, both now and in the future. Whilst this cannot be avoided, when dealing with particularly upsetting documents, if it would help you, your solicitor should offer to meet you in person to go through them and you can even agree a protocol in advance, with your solicitor, for how to deal with such documents to try to make the process as easy as possible for you.
Once court proceedings have been issued in a claim, the court will set a timetable of steps to be completed by the parties, culminating in a trial, which is effectively a future date by which your child’s claim with be resolved. Each step will have a deadline attached to it.
It is important that when your instructions are needed to meet any of these deadlines, for example, the litigation friend will need to authorise service of witness statements on the other side by a particular deadline, your solicitor should notify you in advance of the deadlines and, wherever possible, give you sufficient time to consider the documents with minimal pressure and give you time to raise any questions you have.
Remember, you and your child are entitled to receive great service. After all, what could be more important than ensuring your child achieves the best possible settlement to ensure their lifelong needs will always be met, whilst you are compassionately and effectively supported along the way? If you do not feel this is happening, you may want to consider transferring conduct of your child’s claim to a different solicitor, particularly someone who is a specialist child brain injury solicitor.