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While it may never reach the heights of the United States, Australia is becoming one of the most litigious countries for personal injury, along with seeing higher levels of damages and more cases going to trial. The personal injury law market in Australia grew by 2.3% in 2022, with revenue amounting to $1.8bn, according to statistics from IBISWorld.
Moving towards 2023, there’s no sign of that demand dropping off. Delays in medical assessments and ongoing government updates have taken a toll on investigations, and there are potential issues around COVID-19 vaccinations – a significant opportunity for personal injury lawyers’ expertise.
Therefore, the demand for strong, empathetic and driven personal injury lawyers is considerable. Now in their second year, Australasian Lawyer’s 5-Star Personal Injury Lawyers & Law Firms awards recognise the incredible work in this field, and the tireless pursuit of good outcomes for clients.
“We provide incentive-based bonuses that meet and exceed our competitors to attract the best lawyers in the industry”
Anthony Cummins, Gair Legal
Reflecting on what is needed to be a success in the sector, Richard Johnson of nationwide firm McCabes, a barrister at the High Court of Australia and a personal injury specialist, describes a combination of skills.
“You’ve got to be technically adept, understand the law and the cases that apply in each of the matters you’re dealing with,” he explains.
“There has to be pragmatism and sensibility there too, and you have to have good relationships with the lawyers opposite you. Being able to manage those relationships from every angle is one of the most useful skills you can have.”
Creating an environment for lawyers to thrive is a complicated task. For example, 5-Star winners Gair Legal opted to set up multiple offices in New South Wales outside of the CBD to offer their lawyers a better work-life balance whilst maintaining a team structure.
Finance director Anthony Cummins expanded on the initiatives they use to get the best out of their staff. “We have a casual office dress policy, except the court and client attendances. Staff can choose to work in sports attire and have the flexibility to program their sporting and health activities around their work life,” he says. “We provide incentive-based bonuses that meet and exceed our competitors to attract the best lawyers in the industry.”
Part of Gair’s success is their founding principles are still respected today. The firm began when a leading lawyer left a large national firm to strike out on their own.
“It is an environment where every lawyer is valued and allowed to thrive to their best capacity in a supportive and team-based environment. As a result, we have attracted quality senior leaders and lawyers who have created a strong leadership group who cares,” Cummins says. “The lawyers and staff at Gair Legal care about the work product they provide and care about the people and processes involved.”
All of their lawyers are experts in litigation and mediation, and they actively seek early resolution for the best possible outcomes for clients. Cummins highlights how the firm’s superpower lies with its staff.
“We are differentiated by our highly specialised legal team who are willing and able to ‘go the extra mile’ to ensure we provide the best service to our clients. We mentor and develop our team to ensure a consistent and high level of work output.”
And he adds, “We remain highly specialised and focused on all aspects of workers’ compensation claims for the benefit of insurers and employers.”
Despite Gair Legal’s stellar reputation, their team is not standing still. The firm is focused on learning from clients and wants to keep refining their operating methods.
“Gair Legal actively listens to clients and works with them to achieve beneficial outcomes. We always remain open to feedback, ensuring that continual learning and improvement remain the cornerstone of our mantra,” explains Cummins.
Also a 2022 winner is Wendy Nixson, a practice leader and special counsel in medical law at Shine Lawyers. For her, one of the challenging parts of the job is connecting with people from different walks of life and helping them start their journey to recovery.
Nixson has represented two clients before the Supreme Court of Queensland, which she says has been invaluable in developing her perspective on the cases she works on.
“We’re all human beings, and we’re all susceptible to someone making a mistake,” Nixson says.
“We’ve spent years working with the right experts to help us create the cases and pick our way through the relevant facts. We have a team of nurses who help us do our work, so if you pick up the phone and talk to us, you’ll be talking to someone who understands medicine.”
“Giving clients closure, as well as the financial means to move on and get appropriate treatment, brings me great satisfaction in my work”
Daniel Opare, Shine Lawyers
Personal injury lawyers deal with clients in vulnerable situations. Add in the need for solid medical expertise, and you have a complicated yet highly personal area of law.
“We place great trust in our healthcare system and when failures occur, the outcome can be devastating,” says Shine Lawyers practice leader in medical law Daniel Opare, one of Australasian Lawyer's 5-Star Personal Injury Lawyers. “Giving clients closure, as well as the financial means to move on and get appropriate treatment, brings me great satisfaction in my work.”
According to Clare Eves, national practice leader and medical negligence expert at Shine Lawyers, the human factor is particularly important. It takes a unique combination of expertise, empathy and understanding to get clients the outcomes they need.
“Every single client I’ve had has been very much like me,” explains Eves, also one of the 5-Star winners. “Just a normal person living their life, worrying about the small stuff like what they’re going to wear to work tomorrow, or what they’re going to have for dinner. And then the next day, life is just completely tipped on its head through absolutely no fault of their own.”
“I can’t change the past, but I can help my clients navigate a whole new future,” she adds. “If you have a really complex claim, it is really essential that you get the right lawyer that has experience in these types of claims, knows which doctors and barristers to work with, and knows how to navigate the process properly.”
Aside from representing clients, many of the winners are also prolific contributors to discussions about the latest legal issues and challenges in the personal injury space.
Kate Henderson, partner at BPC Lawyers and also a 2022 winner, has written extensively on personal injury, including commentary around issues related to COVID-19, and the use of alternative dispute resolution to solve personal injury claims. She says that mediation in particular has been on the rise over the past few years and is increasingly being seen as a better alternative to a full trial.
“These days, many legal disputes between people are resolved outside of courts by alternative dispute resolution means such as mediation,” Henderson writes.
“The growth of mediation as a way of solving legal disagreements was an inevitable response to the expense, delays and stress involved in taking a matter to court for judgment,” she explains.
“Whereas litigation in the court environment is adversarial by nature, with each party’s legal representatives pursuing, to the best of their ability, a ‘win’ for their client and a loss for the opponent, mediation is a more collaborative effort by the opposing parties to negotiate a workable solution they can both live with and move on.”
“We’ve spent years working with the right experts to help us create the cases and pick our way through the relevant facts. We have a team of nurses who help us do our work, so if you pick up the phone and talk to us, you’ll be talking to someone who understands medicine”
Wendy Nixson, Shine Lawyers
According to Johnson, the adaptability of lawyers and firms in the personal injury space means we’re not likely to see a lull in business.
“I think the legal profession has been really adaptive in its use of technology,” Johnson says. “Because of this, and the ability of plaintiff solicitors to issue claims throughout lockdowns, the expectations around claims dropping off just didn’t happen as much as we thought it would.”
Johnson also says we’re likely to see interesting issues emerge, particularly around concussion sports and institutional abuse. Although Australia introduced a National Redress Scheme for children in institutions who experienced abuse, Johnson says that many claimants are not necessarily going to go through its process.
“I think the intention of the Redress Scheme was to reduce the amount of claims,” Johnson says. “That hasn’t had the impact that was thought to be had, so I think we’re going to see more ongoing claims in this area.
“But we’re also seeing claims increase in every other sector that you’d ordinarily see, so I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of work for us over the coming year.”
Australasian Lawyer obtained feedback from leaders in the law profession over a period of 15 weeks. The research team began by conducting a survey with a wide range of personal injury lawyers to determine the key value that law firms can contribute to their clients’ cases.
The in-depth information provided by the participants regarding their clients’ needs enabled the research team to assign weighted values for the law firms’ services. Then, the research team sought the opinions of personal injury lawyers themselves as to which law firms they would recommend other than those they were currently working with.
At the end of the research period, the law firms and lawyers that received the highest rankings in terms of work quality, specialist expertise and client service quality were declared 5-Star awardees in the field of personal injury law.