Since graduating from The University of Law as a solicitor in 1978, Colin Ettinger has gone on to become a leading personal injury lawyer, representing those who have sustained life changing injuries. As a solicitor and partner with Irwin Mitchell, he is head of their personal injury department in London and has been practising personal injury litigation for over 35 years.
We caught up with Colin to ask why he chose law and what skills he thinks are important to flourish as a personal injury lawyer.
I chose to study law because of a cousin who was already studying a law degree. I had decided that I wanted to go to University but I did not know what to study. He told me what it was about and it sounded quite interesting, so I decided to do that. At the time, I knew very little law.
When I went to University, I found the law degree absolutely fascinating. I was very interested in all subjects, but in my third year, I became particularly interested in Labour Law. At the time, the early 1970s, there was much litigation involving trade unions and found this aspect particularly interesting. As a result, my main aim was to join a firm who represented trade unions.
I am pleased to say that I secured articles with Robin Thompson & Partners who were one of the leading trade union firms. As it turned out, trade unions offer their members free legal services in respect of accident claims. This meant that most of the work that we did was personal injury claims and this is where I gained my expertise in this particular area.
I am now the lead partner of the personal injury department at Irwin Mitchell in London. We employ about 200 people. I have a case load and a team which I supervise. Much of my work involves supervision, but also managing the team itself. Like any business, we have values to follow and targets that have to be met. All of this is both challenging, but extremely satisfying.
I joined Irwin Mitchell in 1995, after being a partner at Robin Thompson & Partners for many years. Two colleagues and myself, were able to take an opportunity to set up the London office for Irwin Mitchell at that time. When we started, there were only 5 of us and we are now very proud of what we have achieved over the past 20 plus years.
The people who inspired with me were those who showed me the way in the early part of my career. There were 5 of these individuals altogether. They gave me a great deal of their time in teaching me how to conduct personal injury cases. I will always be in their gratitude for the time that they gave me, even though they will say that it was just part of their job. I found their approach to the work inspirational. They also set me a very good example which I have tried to follow throughout my career, which is helping those who need guidance and support.
So far my career has been full of many highlights, I am pleased to say. The work that we do is very satisfying. A good result means that we have been able to not only recover compensation for a seriously injured person, but helped to restore their lives to how they were prior to the accident, as near as possible. This means that much of our work includes getting involved in the rehabilitation process and securing funds so that a rehabilitation programme can be fulfilled. Inevitably, this involves using occupational therapists. As a result, I have developed a close association with that profession so, when I was invited to become Vice President of the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, I was thrilled. I think this has to be the proudest moment of my career.
A typical day for me involves arriving at work at about 8am. I try and get some serious work done on my cases, which is successful until about 9.30am by which time everyone has arrived. From then until about 5pm, my day has constant interruptions. I have to say I welcome this. Normally this involves colleagues seeking guidance on various points relating to their cases. Invariably there will be several meetings during the day. These can internal, external with various contacts and also with clients. The final part of the day is another opportunity to do some serious work on my cases. I normally leave the office at about 7.15 pm.
There are many qualities and skills you need as a personal injury lawyer. It goes without saying that technical skills are required but emotional intelligence is essential. However, we are involved in an adversarial process, so it is important that personal injury lawyers are prepared to litigate. On the one hand you come up against very experienced Defendants’ representatives. On the other, it is necessary to be able to establish a very good rapport with clients. The ones we represent are seriously injured, which brings their own problems. It is important to become a trusted friend for them. Social skills are essential.
I consider it vital to be innovative. There are many challenges for a personal injury lawyer at the moment. I feel that it is vital to be committed to the work that we do. Without this, I doubt that a lawyer will progress very far. Finally, as with any lawyer or indeed person, everything that you do must be done with integrity.
I was given a personal injury case load almost as soon as I started at Robin Thompson & Partners. I was heavily supervised, and as a result, developed the ability to deal with personal injury cases. I think it was at this stage that I grew to like conducting these cases very much. More importantly, it gave me much satisfaction to gain redress for a client who has been injured.
My role as a partner at Irwin Mitchell has many responsibilities as well as opportunities. It is, however, a tough gig. As I have indicated, it is hard work, involving not only conducting cases, but supervising many others and also having an eye on business aspects of running a law firm. There are plenty of opportunities for those who join Irwin Mitchell. In the time that I have been there, I have seen many of my junior colleagues rise through the ranks and now hold very responsible positions.
In the world of personal injury, there are likely to be many changes and developments going into the future as there have been in the past. There will be reforms resulting from recent proposals made by Lord Justice Jackson. There are likely to be further government reforms to the law. I also anticipate that technology will have an even greater impact than it does at the moment. It is important that we ensure that such developments work to our clients’ advantage.
I enjoyed giving three lectures about being a good personal injury lawyer at the University of Law and I hope that the students who I lectured gained something from it. The University of Law is a very good law school and will help students, I am sure, pursue a successful career.
Practising law is a wonderful career. However, it is a challenge and to be successful I think it is necessary to be committed, be innovative and behave with integrity.