I had a call this week from a lady who asked me “are you a Fibromyalgia lawyer?”
Whilst I was a little taken aback by the question, I suppose that the answer is “in a way, yes”, although I act for clients suffering from a range of chronic pain conditions, of which FM is just one.
This is, however, illustrative of just how solicitors have continued to specialise over the last couple of decades. Twenty years ago, a solicitor who specialised exclusively in personal injury litigation was relatively unusual. Today, we seem almost ‘two a penny’, but increasingly, we are carving out our own niche areas of work, perhaps to stand out from the crowd; perhaps because there is something very comforting about developing real expertise in a particular area of work.
Often solicitors go looking for a specialist interest, but sometimes it finds them. I fall into the latter category. Some years ago, in close succession, two of my clients were diagnosed with chronic pain conditions – one with FM, the other with CRPS. Despite the evidential and other challenges which are always a feature of cases involving chronic pain, it was particularly satisfying to achieve excellent settlements for each of these clients in the face of the inevitable scepticism of the insurance companies concerned. That really sparked my interest in cases involving chronic pain. Such cases now form the majority of the work in our department.
Most of the enquiries that I receive are from clients of other law firms who are unhappy with their current representation. When I take over conduct of a claim, the most common problem that I find is that the former solicitor has instructed totally inappropriate medical experts. It is unfortunate that chronic pain is still little understood by the medical profession and it is, therefore, vital to use respected medical experts who have proven clinical expertise in the treatment of chronic pain conditions, usually either consultants in rheumatology or pain medicine.
But even among clinical treatment providers, opinions vary, and one distinct advantage that we have by virtue of our extensive experience in this area, is our knowledge of the very best medical experts nationally in the field of chronic pain. We are also somewhat unusual among personal injury solicitors in that we do not use third party medical agencies to obtain medical reports. We always instruct medical experts direct and in that way we are in a far better position to build a good working relationship with the expert concerned and to ensure that the instructions to the expert are tailored to the individual client. It never ceases to amaze me just how many solicitors seem to send a standard ‘fill in the blanks’ letter of instruction to a medical expert!
People in chronic pain just want their condition to improve. This is something that we are acutely aware of and securing funding for a client’s treatment is a priority for us. Whilst treatment is often not curative, improvement is possible. There are some excellent pain management programmes, residential and outpatient, at national centres of excellence. However, the availability of such treatment within the NHS is limited. Without persuasive medical evidence from respected medical experts, insurance companies are unlikely to agree interim funding for such treatment.
Specialisation has therefore led to us having a particular understanding of the needs of our clients suffering chronic pain – an understanding of the legal and evidential challenges; an understanding of the need for early specialist treatment; and an understanding of the need for long term financial security.