Victoria James, a trainee solicitor at Co-op Legal Services, always knew a career in law would be her life’s ambition. In this blog, she talks about the real difference her colleagues make to the lives of members and clients.
“I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer. I just wanted to use my abilities to help others. It’s challenging because all our clients’ problems are different but we use our experience of the law to achieve what we can for them, and that’s so satisfying,” smiles Victoria.
Victoria is softly spoken, quietly confident and clearly passionate about the role she has in changing people’s lives for the better. Starting as a Junior Lawyer with Co-op Legal Services four and a half years ago, she moved to the Legal Advice team manning a telephone helpline for members which gave her a solid understanding of the problems many people faced.
The personal touch
A year and a half ago she started in the Personal Injury department, taking on an emotionally charged role dealing with cases of children involved in road traffic accidents. Victoria admits Personal Injury can sometimes be ‘challenging and frustrating’ particularly since the government introduced changes in the law (Jackson Reforms) which ultimately make it harder for people to access legal services.
“We’re an incredibly busy department,” explains Victoria. “A child is a completely innocent party and if they’re severely injured, the rest of their life is affected. There’s no way you can change that but the best thing you can do is make sure they’re looked after,” she adds.
While the severe cases are left to the Serious Injury team who are “brilliant” lawyers according to Victoria, she shadowed a recent case which brought home how ‘life-changing’ her job can be.
“We were acting on behalf of the family of a man who’d died in a motorbike accident. He had a younger brother who was dependent on him and an elderly mother, so there was an issue about agreeing damages for his future care.
“I got to meet the younger brother, and although nothing will bring his brother back it’s rewarding to know you’ve done the best you can for him.
“We can claim for many things like adapting people’s houses and cars – these are the things that are valuable and can impact on clients’ lives. That’s what compensation is for. It’s not just an easy way of making money, it’s not just ‘crash for cash’. You’ve taken the weight off their shoulders,” she says.
Communication and teamwork
While empathy is an important skill to have as a lawyer, Victoria believes being a good communicator is everything. “The most common reason for lawyers to get involved is because of a breakdown in communication – between partners, employees and employer, claimants and defendants in accidents,” she explains.
“Communication is the only tool you have. We work really hard to make sure our clients understand everything they need to know. If they don’t, we haven’t done our job,” she admits.
And doing this job in an atmosphere of respect and co-operation is the key for Victoria. “Here at Co-op Legal Services everybody is there for each other. Everyone is willing to answer your questions because that’s the only way you learn.
“Everyone I know says it’s one of the nicest places to work because of the people. It’s a tough and quite stressful job dealing with people that aren’t in their best place and trying to get the right result for them under pressure. You really need your colleagues to help you out and they’re always there,” she smiles.
Running for loneliness
Having recently moved out of Personal Injury into Employment law, Victoria is ready to take on another challenge as she limbers up for the London Marathon on 24 April to raise money for our campaign to tackle loneliness.
She admits running has not so far been her life’s ambition. “I haven’t ever run a race!” she exclaims. So she’s been getting advice from the ‘sporty people’ who all seem to work at Co-op Legal Services’ head office in Bristol.
“I’ve been really touched by everyone’s support,” she says. “It’s come around a little faster than expected but I’m determined to raise as much money as I can for a really important cause.”
We’re sure Victoria will use the steely determination she shows in getting justice for others to get over that finishing line! Good luck from everyone at the Co-op.