Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The dangers of specialisation

By Aidan Ellis

This was the editorial for the PIBU Law Journal this month.

In my first week back after the New Year, I ended up in a Magistrates Court in Essex making a plea in mitigation. This was a departure from the comfortable circuit of County Courts which are so familiar to the PI lawyer. The experience caused me to reflect on the merits of a general practice. The modern trend is for lawyers to specialise in narrow areas of law. Certainly in the City, true general practitioners are becoming endangered species. In some respects this is a loss, both to the profession and to the public.

Of course, each area of law has its own peculiarities. Some of these cannot be gleaned from text books. This is where the specialist holds the advantage. An example of this in PI law is the question of costs. The PI practitioner is used to arguing costs points at the end of each hearing. Hard experience means that we are familiar with which arguments are likely to succeed, and which will merely irritate the Judge. A newcomer to PI may lack this judgement. Moreover the law itself seems to get ever more specialised. Whole text books are written about subjects that until recently would only have merited a chapter in a more general text.

Nevertheless the core skills of the lawyer apply to any area of law. Legal research, drafting and most importantly communication are substantially the same in any branch of the law. There is no substitute for a broad range of experience in terms of being able to offer a complete service to clients. Often clients have legal problems that are not easily pigeonholed into a particular specialism. Personal injury itself may overlap with employment, health and safety or criminal law.

On a personal level, occasionally being thrust into the melee of an unfamiliar area of law is useful experience. It teaches, or perhaps reminds, how to research novel points swiftly and accurately. It is useful practice for the advocate to appear unflappable in any situation because even on home ground new points can occur.

Unfortunately these gentler benefits look set to be swamped by the onrushing tide of specialisation.


Dr Michelle Tempest said...

It seems to be going that way in medicine as well, everyine rushing to specialise. However, it's necessary to keep up general medical knowledge as well. Great article - it's interesting to read how lawyers specialise. Cheers Michelle

Alexei Ghertescu said...

The most important (and difficult) I think is to find the balance between specializing (which IS necessary) and being too general. Sometimes not so easy to do.