Rosamund Rhodes-Kemp is Head of Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury at Hudgell Solicitors, and a specialist in tackling complex claimant cases, in particular cerebral palsy cases, claims involving children, failures in care of the elderly, and spinal injury cases.
What made you decide to become a solicitor?
Once I had qualified as a nurse, I was approached by my old training school and was asked if I would undertake a degree in nursing. There was a move within the profession to change the training requirements so that all nurse training was degree based, known as Project 2000. Whilst I would have had absolutely no objection at all to doing a degree in nursing, I fundamentally disagreed with Project 2000, and still do, because I think that a lot of what nurses do has nothing to do with theoretical knowledge, but with practical skills, hard work and kindness. Faced with the prospect of having to do a degree to remain in nursing and not agreeing with Project 2000, I decided to do a degree in law, which was still a way in which one could help people in a practical way.
How and why did you choose your area of specialism?
I was torn between family law and medical law and was offered jobs in good firms in both specialisms on qualification. I asked a very good Barrister friend of mine, who also specialised in both fields, and he advised that the nursing would be of more benefit in medical law.
What is it you want to achieve at Hudgell Solicitors?
I would like to establish the London office as a major player for medical claims in London and the South East.
Which has been your most interesting case to work on, and why?
It is impossible to say which has been the most interesting, but I have had quite a few spinal injury cases where fairly routine surgery, or a delay in diagnosis, left the patient paralysed from the waist downwards. Two clients in particular stand out as being absolutely incredible in the way they adapted to their disabilities. What was interesting about both of the cases were that they were incredibly difficult to prove and the medical evidence throughout would sway towards the case, or away from it, to such an extent that Counsel would tentatively suggest we might have to abandon the case. Yet both of them settled for significant amounts despite all the evidential difficulties. It is that twisting and turning in a case and navigating through adverse medical reports or weak experts, moments of doubt or indecision and bringing the case safely into port that I find the most gratifying type of case. Particularly when the clients are so deserving of help.
What are the most rewarding parts of the job?
Clients and the fact that I am still in touch with so many of my former clients.
What are the most challenging parts of the job?
The administrative burden – various reports have to be read and analysed and requests for information or dealing with all the administrative tasks which are common to every law firm. A lot of these detract from looking after the clients and progressing cases and I find that very frustrating at times.
What is the most common misconception about what you do?
The press often portray people like myself as legal leeches that bleed the NHS dry. That is actually a phrase that was used by one fairly prominent journalist. Yet I was asked to give a lecture as part of the series organised by my rural dean. It was a full house with lots of questions at the end. Many commented on how rewarding the work must be and that they had no idea about what people like myself did on a daily basis to support and represent those seriously injured as a result of medical error. Very few people from outside would appreciate the technical difficulty in mastering not just the law in this field but also the state of the art medicine, surgery and interventionist techniques that are required to challenge core practice, and also the emotional support that many of our clients need.
Do you have any role models or mentors who have inspired your career choices so far?
Simon John of Cunningham John was an inspiration to me when I was a trainee solicitor and even at university. Rather bizarrely I took over from him when he retired from Cunningham John and it was an absolute pleasure and privilege to do so. The other significant person is Sir Ian Kennedy, who I was lucky enough to have as a tutor when I did my Masters at Kings in Medical Ethics and Law. A wonderful teacher and an inspirational character. Phenomenally intelligent and challenging.
How did you find your university experience as a law student?
My university experience as a law student was tough, like it is for everyone else who is studying law. It was far more intensive than many other subjects at university and my fellow students seemed to have quite an easy time of it by comparison to the law students!
What I found particularly startling though was the difference in culture between the university degree and nurse training. In nursing the topics were designed to enlarge your mind and make you think outside the box, to challenge your perceptions and human interactions. My colleagues were incredibly supportive and we worked as a team
Legal training is all about thinking in side the box with a given set of facts and individualistic learning. I was totally shocked when we had been given our first essay and to do it you had to read a chapter from a particular book. There was only one copy in the library (that takes us back because there was no internet!), but I could not find the book, even though I asked in plenty of time. The librarian said immediately “well it will have been taken and hidden so that the person who has taken it has plenty of time to do their essay and can stop everyone else from getting good marks”. She said it was very common in the law school!.
Now whether she was right or not, the fact remained that it was definitely not about teamwork. The students did support one another but in a kind of ad hoc rather fragmented way. Looking back, this seems so odd because the minute anyone starts in practice they are expected to work in teams and to think outside the box in terms of business development and creative marketing and networking.
What key skills do you think all great solicitors need?
- A complete comprehensive grasp on their area of expertise.
- Ability to communicate with clients and staff, stakeholders and third parties.
- Respect of others gained from reputation.
- Leader in the field.
What advice would you give an aspiring solicitor?
Choose your subject area carefully and aim for something that will continue in the long term. Many interesting areas of the law have come under fierce attack and funding cuts over the last 10 years and that trend is set to continue. So if I was advising anyone lucky enough to get through university Law College and obtain a training contract, I would suggest to them that they went for an area of the law that interested them for sure, but that was here for the long term.