Healthcare law involves both litigious and non-litigious cases. Litigious aspects often involve medical negligence cases, which can take the form of clinical, dental or hospital negligence claims. These occur when a health professional makes a mistake or acts in a way that damages a patient’s health or wellbeing. Non-litigious, transactional work also comes up in this area of practice, for example the NHS has huge property portfolios and is the largest employer in Europe, so aspects of property and employment law can also arise.
The types of clients healthcare solicitors advise
Many clients are victims of potential negligence and are often being represented on sensitive issues, so solicitors generally work on cases individually to ensure that good client relationships are built. Empathy is an important skill for solicitors in this area to have, as clients may have been through a traumatic experience. Additionally, the ability to explain complex legal issues simply to ensure that they are properly advised is a key skill as the client may not have encountered this area of law before.
The type of client depends on whether the solicitor works for a claimant or defendant firm. Claimant firms act on behalf of the patient or their family, whereas defendant firms represent healthcare professionals such as doctors, dentists, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and hospital trusts. Work is largely office based, with regular court hearings, inquests or home visits. My hours are 9.00 am to 5.30 pm and, if you manage your time well, you can finish your work within these hours. If you have been out of the office you may occasionally put in extra hours to catch up, but this isn’t an area of practice where all-night or weekend working is the norm.
Since April 2013, new legislation has reduced the amount of legal aid available in this area. Within clinical negligence, legal aid is only available in cases where a child has suffered a neurological injury during pregnancy, childbirth or the first eight weeks of their life. Healthcare law is often topical and compensation or legal costs payouts made by the NHS can come under scrutiny in the media. This can be frustrating – cases in this area frequently take a long time to reach a settlement and headlines often don’t account for this or the seriousness of the patient’s injury. However, it is very rewarding when a positive outcome is reached in a sensitive case.
Is healthcare law recession-proof?
This area has seen a lot of growth and does seem to be recession-proof – we are always recruiting into this area.
The work you'll be expected to do as a trainee
Trainees attend meetings with clients and senior solicitors; draft documents such as schedules of loss under supervision; use research tools to consider the value of a case and report this information to senior colleagues; liaise with new clients; and attend conferences, court hearings and inquests alongside their colleagues.
Types of law practised by healthcare solicitors
- Product liability.
- Human rights.
Good healthcare solicitors have...
- Empathy, as clients have often had traumatic experiences.
- Negotiation skills, in order to ensure that sensitive cases have a positive outcome where possible.
- Good time-management skills, in order to balance out-of-office commitments such as inquests and court visits alongside your workload.
Hayley Collinson is a solicitor in the clinical negligence department at Hudgell Solicitors. She graduated from the University of Hull with a law degree in 2006.