People have two views of personal injury lawyers.
Some people see the romance; Matt Damon in Rainmaker or Erin Brokovich (okay, she wasn’t really a lawyer but you know what I mean) fighting tooth and nail for their client. Others see the seedy side of the industry; the ambulance chasers that show up at disaster scenes (which is illegal in Canada by the way) and whose faces are plastered on late-night TV ads.
It’s no wonder the most common question I get when socializing or networking is ‘why did you become a personal injury lawyer?’
First, I want to say that I love what I do. There are very few areas of law that are as dynamic, poignant and tangible as personal injury law.
I fell into personal injury law soon after law school, as an articling student. I then went on to work in the field, but working defense for the insurance companies. This was a good learning ground for a young lawyer and certainly provided stability for my growing family, but for me, it lacked something.
I’m interested in people, their stories, and their families. I’m intensely loyal to those for whom I care. Although I enjoyed my years working defense, I yearned for a greater connection with my clients which is why I eventually started my own practice.
When you cut through it all, I get people money, just as I did with the insurance companies, but there’s another side to what I do: The human side. 100k is peanuts to a big insurance company, but it makes all the difference to a client who is depending on that money to survive.
I don’t take on as many clients as some of my peers do because I enjoy working closely with my clients. I get to know their lives and their families. It’s meaningful work.
When I’m acting on the plaintiff side (if you’re in a motor vehicle accident, generally you’re a plaintiff as you’re suing an insurance company who has denied your claim), I see the fruits of my labour and how it impacts peoples’ lives.
Is there an element of romance? I’d say no. Those who walk through my door have had their lives thrown into upheaval because of their injuries. They’re usually in a financial bind – there is nothing romantic about a real life family in crisis. But I like that I can fight for them, and that, through me, they have power again.
It helps that I’m argumentative – as my wife will attest to! And you need that as a personal injury lawyer. I like to ask why, and explore the tough questions. I will fight for my clients because they need it, and when we win, I feel like justice has been served and the law has been applied the way it was intended – to protect those who need it most. It is an emotional process for my clients and an emotional process for my team too.
And of course there’s a selfish side to it. If I were to do a good job working for the insurance company, the insurance adjustor might turn to me and say “nice job, Derek.” But it’s another thing altogether when I’m with my family at the Winona Peach Festival (close to Hamilton) and I run into a former client who tells me I changed their life. That is… I can’t even articulate what it means to me – even just to see them happy and healthy is a big deal.
There is nothing wrong with defense work, but with this, I can see the difference I’m making with people, and that is why I became a personal injury lawyer.