A good personal injury lawyer will have a strong technical grasp of the complexities of the law. A great personal injury lawyer will tell a story.
Personal injury law is complex. There are multiple pieces of legislation that apply. There are complex examples of case law (or judge made law) that must be understood, applied or distinguished in order to be successful.
But being a technically good lawyer will only advance a client so far. To maximise the effectiveness of the client’s case, a lawyer must do more than provide a clinically accurate presentation of your matter.
The key to a great outcome is remembering it is all about “people”.
At the heart of personal injury law claims are people. The person injured is a real person. The claims officer at the insurer who is handling your claim is a real person. The lawyer on the other side is a real person. The judge deciding your claim (should it reach trial) is a real person.
To ignore this critical element on all sides of a case or at every aspect of a claim is to miss out on a vital opportunity to improve the outcome. People can become subconsciously, or emotionally, invested in someone else’s story. If this is at the forefront of a personal injury lawyer’s mind, then the key focus should be on approaches that help develop that emotional investment on the other side.
The most valuable reason to engage a great lawyer is for advocacy. Yes, an injured person can run their claim themselves, but the benefit of advocacy from a technically excellent lawyer can mean the difference between a poor outcome and a fair outcome.
Advocacy does not just mean presenting enough information to satisfy the criteria of a claim. Advocacy means telling your story. It means telling your story in an engaging, persuasive and compelling way.
Who prefers a textbook account over a biographical story?
Let’s compare it to reading a history book in high school. You could learn about World War 1 in a textbook. You will learn the date that it started and ended, the nations involved, where the battles were fought, the numbers of soldiers who gave up their lives, the rationing that occurred at home, and what happened to countries after the war ended. The textbook usually makes pretty dry reading and may tend to dehumanise the experienced of the people who experienced the war.
Alternatively, you could learn about the war through biographical style books. Both style of books will tell you about the war. However, the textbook focuses more on the fact. The biographical books tell you the story. The story tells the reader what happened, what it felt like, how it impacted on all aspects of someone’s life, what it means for someone’s plans, hopes and dreams for the future and how it changed their lives.
Which account is more compelling? Which account makes you want to keep reading? Which version leaps off the page at you? The biographical account.
By using the story telling account method, the writer is keeping the audience in mind. The reader is a real person, reading a story about a real person. The story helps to create a sense of empathy for the person in the story and the journey they were on. It lets the reader see the whole picture. It helps to create a story that jumps off the pages of the document.
Why some lawyers dehumanise personal injury law claims and others tell a story
A great personal injury lawyer will be someone who loves reading stories and is passionate about telling stories. A modern lawyer ought to strive for innovation to best serve their client’s needs. As part of this, telling stories must be at the forefront of everything we do. We should rebel against traditional methods of communication that dehumanise an injured person’s story.
Historically, we were taught as lawyers to refer to our clients as “the claimant”, “the worker”, “the plaintiff”, “the injured person” or “our client”. Technically, this is a correct way to describe the person bringing the claim. But it is robotic and impersonal. In my view, it is also a barrier to great advocacy.
It dehumanises the client. When the other side picks up a letter and reads it with those terms, how does it help them to see the client as a “real person” as opposed to “just another claimant” or “just another file”? It does not.
That is why I do not allow letters or documents to go out to insurance companies with those dehumanising terms. You will not see letters from my office that refer to our client as anything other than their actual name.
I don’t say “Our client has required time off work …” or “The treatment required by the injured worker after her injury was …”. I say, “Bob has required time off work after the car accident …“ or “The treatment required by Jane after her work injury was …”.
Insurance claims officers and defendant’s lawyers are real people too
By remembering that Claims officers and insurance lawyers representing insurers are real people too, personal injury lawyers can do better for their clients. The claim officers and defendant lawyers will typically have large file loads and are dealing with complex issues.
This can make it difficult for them to wade through the significant amount of information and distinguish one claim from another without a detailed review of the file. They have an important job to do – advise their client or company on the issues and a reasonable outcome for the claim.
A great personal injury lawyer makes this job easier for them. They make it easier for them to understand the client, find the information they need and recall the aspects of the claim that are most going to let the courts see the injured person as a real client. Instead of them having to face the laborious task of reading a “textbook” about the client – we can make the process a little more engaging and compelling for them. We may make the legal task a little more enjoyable for them.
We can make it easier for them to deliver the advice to the client. If we do it well, we may even have them championing our client’s case to their clients. And by doing so, we do better for our clients.
A great lawyer takes the other side on the journey with the client
A person with a claim should want the other side to be on the journey with the client. We want the other side to engage with our client’s story and their journey. Most importantly, we want the insurer to fully understand the true extent of the devastating impact the accident had on the clients’ lives.
By refusing to adopt traditional “dehumanising” methods of communication, I believe we provide the best opportunity for the insurer to understand more than just facts and figures. They will better understand the real person behind the claim. Without an understanding of the real story rather than just the clinical story, how can injured people hope to get a fair outcome from an insurer?
If a personal injury lawyer is not asking themselves, every day, “How can I better tell my client’s story?”, then they are doing their clients a great disservice.
Anna Morgan, Special Counsel, Personal Injury & Insurance Team
Posted in: Personal Injury
June 22 2020