Students and Young Lawyers

Should give personal injury practice a try

Students and Young Lawyers

To all the articling students and young calls reading this: raise your hand if you have said any of the following during a job interview:

“I want to run my own files.”
“I need court experience.”
“I’d like more client interaction.”

All of these statements are interview clichés, and for good reason. If you plan to be a litigator, hands-on experience in every aspect of the job should be your priority.

Now, to get that experience, you could venture to a small town and hang out a shingle (except, don’t actually hang out a shingle. It’s 2016, buy a domain name.). However, there is an alternative for those of us in urban centres: to get plenty of hands-on litigation experience, find a way to get into personal injury (PI) practice.

Many of my colleagues are reluctant to practise in this area. Rightly or wrongly, personal injury lawyers carry a certain stigma in society (you’ll learn to resist rolling your eyes when your non-lawyer friends call you an ambulance-chaser). However, those litigators who are just starting out should not fall victim to this way of thinking, as PI is an excellent way to develop your skills.

Young lawyers are handed their own files – lots of them – right out of the gate. This means doing everything yourself, from developing the evidence to negotiating an eventual settlement. You will need to develop a workflow that suits you, so that your practice runs efficiently.

The most significant advantage is the opportunity to run your own discoveries. Unlike other practice areas, where discoveries can be rare, young PI lawyers find themselves conducting or defending discoveries every few weeks. You will become more comfortable both making objections and responding to them. You will start to develop your own style. You will encounter reluctant witnesses who require careful questioning to draw out their evidence, and talkative witnesses who need to be reined in.

There is also ample opportunity to interact with clients. Whether you act for plaintiffs or defendants (or both), odds are that a personal injury lawsuit will be your client’s first interaction with the legal system. Many of them will require reassurance about the process. All of them will need thorough preparation before they are examined under oath.

Of course, opinion evidence is always crucial to personal injury lawsuits, so young practitioners will also learn to give instructions to their experts, and how to attack opposing experts.

That said, there are downsides to every practice area and personal injury is no exception. Pleadings are largely boilerplate and there is usually little need for affidavits, so you will need to diversify your practice into other areas if you want to develop your drafting skills. Also, since junior PI files are usually not legally complex, there are fewer opportunities to research and argue black-letter law.

On the whole, though, these downsides are outweighed by the advantages of honing your skill-set while running your own files. If you are newly graduated or newly called and want to become a litigator, I encourage you to speak to an experienced personal injury practitioner.