Legal Career Paths Examined – What Is It Like Working in Medical Negligence and Malpractice Law?

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Finding a path in law that you find interesting, and where there is a good amount of demand in the area that you want to live in will stand you in good stead for a long and lucrative career after qualifying as a lawyer. However, with so many fields of law to choose from, it is not necessarily that easy to find out what type of practice you’d like to be involved with.

Here, we take a look at the field of legal work concerned with medical malpractice and medical negligence UK, to help you decide if you think this might be a path within law that you’d be interested in taking as you move into your professional career as a solicitor.

What Is Medical Negligence?

Medical negligence covers a very wide range of scenarios, but at its core, what medical negligence solicitors are doing is representing people who want to make claims for compensation due to harm they have suffered as a result of preventable medical errors or mistakes. For a case to be likely to succeed in winning compensation, you would be expected to show that the client has suffered loss, injury or impairment as a result of the negligence, and that the care they received was below the expected standards. We’ll look in more detail at what kinds of situations lead to medical negligence claims later in this article.

Medical negligence lawyers can be claiming compensation from either private individuals and organisations, such as specialist private clinics, cosmetic surgeons, and nursing homes, or from the NHS.

How Big Is Medical Negligence as a Legal Field?

Medical negligence is an area of law where claims can be very high. Because people who have been the victims of malpractice can have long reaching health problems as a result, or even die, the value of individual compensation claims can be large. There are, of course, smaller claims too where the outcome of the negligence was less catastrophic for the patient (for instance where they just need to cover the cost and loss of earnings for a second round of surgery to correct a mistake), but all in all the cost of medical negligence over a year does become significant. The NHS alone had £1.7 billion worth of successful claims made against it in 2016/17 (the latest data available), and this was a rise of £300 million on the previous year.

This means that medical negligence is not only an in-demand field of law, but also that the demand for medical negligence lawyers is rising each year. The reasons for this may correlate with wider problems in the healthcare industry like understaffing and failings in regulation and monitoring, however even as controls tighten to help improve practices, the role of medical negligence solicitors in representing people when things go wrong and keeping surgeons and medical practitioners accountable will always be an important one.

What Type of Law Firm Could You Work for as a Medical Negligence Solicitor?

There are some law firms that specialise exclusively in medical law and malpractice, for example the medical negligence experts who take a range of different medical claims, even extending into dental malpractice and unsuccessful weight loss. Getting into a specialist firm like this one would be the obvious choice for a new lawyer looking to build a career in this sector of the industry, however there are also law firms that have multiple departments, some dealing with medical negligence, which you could work for too.

Another option, further down the line, is starting your own practice. Naturally you would need to do market research to see whether the demand in your area would support a new company of medical negligence lawyers. However, due to the fact that medical malpractice cases can happen anywhere where people seek out healthcare, this is generally a field of law where you are not restricted to building a career or business in a major city. From this perspective, it can be a good choice if you want to work in smaller towns or rural areas where there may already be enough law firms to serve the needs of the area for things like divorce, property, family and tax law, but not necessarily for more niche areas like this.

What Are Some of the Most Common Kinds of Medical Negligence Claims in the UK?

Medical negligence claims UK can relate to just about any field of medicine, but the most common claims are around the following areas:

  • Pregnancy and birth. The majority of claims relating to negligence in the treatment of pregnant women and newborns during pregnancy, childbirth and immediately after birth are against the NHS, as one might expect given that this is where most expectant mothers are treated. Cases can involve things like mistakes during childbirth that lead to damage to the mother, and negligence issues during pregnancy or birth that can cause brain damage to the child that could have been prevented. Many cases of cerebral palsy fall into this category.
  • Diagnosis issues. Where diagnoses that would under normal protocols have been made correctly are missed or wrong, this can be a medical negligence situation. False positives can also sometimes be cases for negligence if treatment is administered without normal further testing or if the false positive was due to a mistake or error rather than within the normal parameters of diagnosing the respective condition.
  • Surgical mistakes. If there was an error in surgery that led to unnecessary damage, including injury to organs close to those being operated on, or excessive scarring, this can be a medical negligence issue. There can also be more shocking cases where someone has been given the wrong surgery altogether, or had surgical items left inside their bodies after a procedure.
  • Mistakes with medication. Medication and prescription errors can include a patient being accidentally given the wrong drug, told to take the wrong dose or being administered a drug that contains something they have a known allergy to. This can happen in hospitals and GP practices but also in other places where drugs are administered such as nursing homes and rehab clinics.

What Kind of Process Does Taking on a Medical Negligence Case Follow?

Many law firms specialising in medical negligence use a ‘no win, no fee’ model so that they can take on cases from people who cannot afford to hire them upfront, which can often be the case when people are the victims of something very unexpected like medical malpractice. This does however mean that law firms have to be selective about the cases they take on, as a high percentage of them need to win for this model to work.

As a result, the process usually involves a free consultation with somebody who thinks they may have a case for compensation, where the lawyer will do some preliminary investigations. They will then either make an immediate decision about whether they are happy to take the case or go away and do some more research into the case first. If they believe the case is a strong one, they will then proceed, should the client hire them, to make the claim and follow its progress.

Medical malpractice can be an interesting field because it is so varied and can also be rewarding as in many cases the people making claims really do need and deserve compensation.