2015 had been a very good year for Slee Blackwell and in particular our litigation team culminating in each of our specialist departments (Professional Negligence, Clinical Negligence, Claimant Personal Injury and Contentious Probate) earning themselves a recommendation in the Legal 500. This was an extraordinary achievement for a team of our size especially during challenging times where we had to learn to embrace the Post-Jackson changes in funding and our lawyers had been asked to develop and build upon our reputation in niche areas of litigation.
News of the DASLS awards gave us an opportunity to enter categories which we felt would let others know about our successes and gives us an opportunity through the nominations to put in writing how proud we were of the team and the individuals involved. Moreover while we would hope that our staff know their hard work and dedication is always appreciated sometimes it is nice to prove how much they mean to the firm by getting them dressed up in their finery and fed a slap up dinner in the hope they get to take home a shiny lump of Perspex.
Having considered the requirements the firm put forward nominations for Leader/Law Manager of the Year (Lee Dawkins – Head of litigation under whose guidance the department had gone from strength to strength), Team of the Year (Litigation), Solicitor of the Year (James McNally – For his work recovering compensation for dog bite victims), Support Team Member of the Year (Jasmine Butler) and Legal Hero (Rachel Thain).
Nails were bitten to the quick (and then regrown and bitten to the quick once more as the date for final applications were extended) and we were delighted to learn we had been be nominated in each of the categories entered. An announcement in the office followed as did much cheering, back slapping and the drawing of lots for designated drivers. On the night we took home two awards. Jasmine Butler won best support worker and Rachel Thain won Legal Hero. All from the firm were in agreement that these were the two that meant the most to us personally because of the individuals they honoured.
Jasmine Butler first approached Slee Blackwell’s Taunton office looking for work in 2012. Based in Bridgwater she was starting her CILEx course and wanted experience of working in a law firm. When she was told we currently had no vacancies she offered to work for free. We were so impressed by her drive and enthusiasm that a (paid) role was found for her – initially as a secretary and now as a paralegal working within the firms Personal Injury team.
While many employers may describe members of staff as “invaluable” with Jasmine we feel that really is an apt description. She excelled as a secretary but had such clear knowledge and understanding of the legal process that we had no concerns with delegating to her tasks more suitable for a fee earner and in August 2014 she was promoted to such a role. Her work ethic would put many lawyers to shame as would her knowledge of procedure and case law. When one of our lawyers was trying to recall the name of a relatively obscure case recently Jasmine heard and immediately told them the name. It subsequently transpires that in order to improve her knowledge and understanding she regularly reviews the advices on liability and quantum that come into the office and makes a mental and physical note of case law she feels may be of interest. The effort clearly pays off. Her studies are continuing but in her Level 3 exams she achieved distinctions with results of 84%, 87% and 92% and in her Level 6 she is continuing to excel. Again achieving distinctions with an astonishing 92% in Criminal Law.
She is loved by clients who constantly praise her efficiency but also her friendly manner. She will always be available if they ring and will respond by return to emails and letters. At a time when (in personal injury particularly) many firms are adapting to fixed fees and portal costs by seemingly adopting a policy of “stack them high and sell them cheap” she makes sure that they do not feel like they are just another file in the filing cabinet. She remembers not just client names but the names of their husbands/wives/children and grandchildren. She builds up an excellent rapport and obviously she obtains the result they want in terms of their claim.
Rachel Thain has only recently completed her CILEx examinations but has shown experience and wisdom beyond her years and developed into one of the key members of our Specialist Abuse Claims Compensation Team.
Rachel had many notable successes in the 12 months previous but there were two in particular where it was felt all the boxes asked of the Legal Hero were ticked. The winner was to be “the lawyer who deserves recognition for their support, advice and commitment having gone ‘the extra mile’ for clients and made a real difference to them.” There were two clients in particular who shared the view that she was worthy of the title.
PL was admitted to hospital with a serious injury to her hip. Whilst there, she was sexually assaulted by a male carer. She was able to report this distressing incident later the same day. The matter was looked into but Forensic evidence was not obtained and due to the nature of PL’s hip injury, she was unable to travel to undergo a forensic medical examination. There was no one available to attend hospital to undertake this procedure at the time, so it was not done.
The carer in question dismissed the allegations against him and no action was taken by the Police. There were no witnesses to support PL. The hospital suspended this man for unrelated matters. Sadly, PL felt as though she was not being taken seriously or believed, which made the incident even more distressing.
Rachel became involved in the case and PL received a formal letter of apology from the hospital. They changed their policies and procedures in light of this incident. Breach and duty and causation were admitted in full and PL received over £30,000 in compensation.
PL is quite clear that without Rachel’s assistance, determination and persistence she would have remained alone and unsupported. She now feels that she is believed and that justice has been done.
LM had been seriously sexually abused as a young child by a relative. She reported the matter to the Police in her early adulthood and her abuser was convicted. Following the criminal proceedings, she pursued a claim to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). Her application was successful and she received an award of £7,500. This was based upon the tariff award for an individual suffering from a mental injury that was not permanent nature. No special expenses were included in her original claim.
As time progressed, LM’s mental health deteriorated significantly. Her ability to function efficiently in both a social capacity and in employment was impaired. As a result, she approached Slee Blackwell and Rachel for assistance.
On careful consideration of the circumstances of her case, LM was advised by Rachel that she should seek to re-open her case on medical grounds due to the previously unforeseen and significant deterioration in her mental health. As it was more than two years since the original award had been made, persuading the Authority to do so was difficult. A case cannot be re-opened on medical grounds after this time if any extensive further enquiries are required by the Authority. A complicating factor was that the original application and decision letter were no longer in existence. Furthermore, it was necessary to present the application to re-open the case under the rules of the CICA Scheme in force at the time of the original application which contained significant differences to the current Scheme.
To proceed with the claim, it was necessary for Rachel to obtain further evidence to support the application. Medical evidence was sought, by obtaining LM’s medical records and a report from a specialist medical expert with experience in cases of this nature. Rachel also obtained witness statements and employment records. The Authority rejected the application in its entirety in the first instance. Their basis for doing so appeared flawed and a review of that decision was sought by Rachel on the basis that it had been incorrectly made.
On review of the original decision, the Authority accepted LM’s application and she was successful in having her claim opened on medical grounds. Each head of loss was considered by the Authority and on the basis of the statement of case drafted by Rachel she received an award in excess of £180,000. An increase of over £170,000 on her original payment.
For LM this was a life changing result. Once again LM is quite clear that without Rachel’s hard work she would not have received this award and that where many lawyers would have perhaps given up when faced with the numerous hurdles that had to be overcome Rachel kept going and achieved a remarkable outcome.
This is a difficult and technically and emotionally challenging area of law but Rachel has exceptional dedication and commitment to her clients. She offers sympathy and empathy to the abuse victims she deals with on a daily basis while proving herself as a keen and skilled litigator.
For us this really was the award that meant the most.
We would have no hesitation in entering the awards next year. It was a fantastic evening and great opportunity to celebrate the profession, its achievements and in particular the individuals who make it what it is.