It’s rare in your working day that you get the opportunity to just stop and think. The APIL annual conference provides time to do just that,with speakers who will inspire, challenge, and encourage you to question what is right and what is wrong about the environment in which we work. So what were the hot topics? What were the burning issues and developing themes?
Well, advertising, for one thing, continues to attract attention. Is it distasteful or just good commercial sense? Most people,thankfully, never have need of an injury lawyer, so don’t experience first hand the commitment, care and expertise. Injured people who that have used the service tend to have a far more generous view. The wider public see only the adverts - injured people waving cheques in the air, or dancing down the street –and, fired up by the Daily Mail, become more cynical. Broadcaster Nick Ferrari,who took part in our panel debate, pointed out quite rightly that it was time to clean up the public face of the profession. Why can’t all lawyers attract new clients in a way that doesn’t cheapen the service we provide, or make the deserving victim look like a money grabber?
Another issue for members is the fluidity of the marketplace, and the growth of the big players. Andrew Grech from Slater & Gordon provided insight into the mindset of one of the biggest firms of PI lawyers in the world. Where some had expected a demonstration of gritted teeth commercialism, instead they saw a firm that was ethical to the core with a passion for caring for the injured client. Strong ethics, combined with good business sense, can take a firm to the top.
The use of technology in the law continues apace, but in a very different direction. Before technology was all about document management or case management – providing a framework to improve the way a lawyer works.Now, IT adviser Richard Susskind focussed on the use of more disruptive technology-– software that will make legal decisions without the involvement of a lawyer. Major change and automation is frightening for some, whilst providing an opportunity for others, but use of such technology may allow law firms to provide good quality, quick advice with lower overheads, with lawyers focussing on client care and more complex decision making.
The APIL conference never loses sight of the injured person,and it was moving to hear first hand from those who had undergone life-changing injury. Most pertinent was the difference it made to their quality of life when it was possible to recover compensation. Two people – both paraplegic – told their stories. One, injured by virtue of a disabling illness was unable to afford a lightweight wheelchair to make life bearable, and could not shower at home for over a year until sufficient money was saved to modify the shower. The other, injured through negligence, was able to have proper adaptations made to his home early on and was provided with funds to ensure that good quality wheelchairs would be available throughout his life. The difference was stark.Compensation is about so much more than money – it is about care, dignity, and the ability to get a life back on track.
The incoming president’s speech provides the opportunity for reflection, giving insight as to one man’s perspective of the fundamental importance of the job we do. John Spencer talked of the basic right to claim compensation and asked everyone –politician, lawyer or doctor – to focus on doing the right thing by injured people. Doing the right thing can be tough – it might not be quick, or cheap –but justice should never play second fiddle to commercial interests. With John’s ethical core, strong sense of purpose and unerring commitment, APIL is truly in safe hands.