Daniel Sokol from 12 King’s Bench Walk talks about the trends he sees emerging as a clinical negligence barrister, and why Horace Rumpole is his legal role model.
I worked as a pharmacy assistant whilst a student at university. The most terrifying thing was that, after reading a few booklets, I was asked to advise customers about their headaches, stomach problems, skin rashes and other medical issues. As a barrister, I still give advice for a living, but I’m more confident about the correctness of that advice now than I was then!
I’m still proud of winning the Inner Temple Advocacy Prize during my pupillage year, in front of silks and judges and against dozens of very talented pupils. My love of advocacy has grown with each passing year and I now have a decent-sized collection of advocacy books. It is both an art and a science, and there is always room for improvement.
Barristers must show our solicitor colleagues what added value we can bring to their cases
As for a career low, I lost a three-day clinical negligence case in Newcastle some years ago that still haunts me. Before judgment, my opponent whispered ‘Daniel, you’ve won this one.’ And then the judgment came, the sort that starts in your favour and changes after an ominous ‘but’. I’m not sure what more I could have done, but I felt I had let down my client and my solicitor.
Solicitors are using counsel less than before, preferring to draft pleadings and schedules and counter-schedules of loss themselves, for example. Barristers must adapt to this new reality and show our solicitor colleagues what added value we can bring to their cases.
Sean Jones QC said that the single best way to win a case is to make your outcome the path of least resistance for the judge. This goes hand in hand with the advice of Ian Morley QC about making your arguments irresistible.
In terms of day-to-day work, Sab Singh QC, my erstwhile pupil supervisor (and now friend), stressed the vital importance of attention to detail. I remember the time one solicitor wrote in their instructions that the client, an alleged victim of clinical negligence, was found crying in her hospital bed by a doctor. I checked the medical records. It did not say ‘patient crying in bed’, but ‘patient lying in bed’.
Before I came to the Bar, I obtained a PhD in medical ethics and worked as a university lecturer in medical ethics and law. I have recently finished a book called Tough Choices: Stories from the Front Line of Medical Ethics, which published on 28 October 2018. A publisher has approached me for a second book on medical ethics, so perhaps that will be my next big project …
As a student, I was inspired by the humanity of Horace Rumpole (the fictional barrister created by Sir John Mortimer) for whom justice was the guiding star. We lawyers are not always the most beloved by the public but, at the risk of sounding idealistic, there is much good we can do, both for individuals and for society.
I was warned that ‘the law is a jealous mistress and he who woos her must forsake all others’, but I didn’t quite realise just how all-consuming she can be. Evenings, weekends, holidays: a new case on your desk, a new idea in the middle of the night, a new call from your clerk, or a new question from your instructing solicitor – there is no escape. But I don’t mind, really, because it’s interesting work.
When I was 13, my father – a lawyer – was approached by a potential client for legal advice. The client was a professional magician but had very little money. My father struck a deal: in exchange for legal advice, the magician would teach my three brothers and me magic for a week. And what a week that was!
In 2007, I won my first magic competition and in 2014, following a nerve-wracking practical examination in front of professional magicians, I was admitted as a member of the Magic Circle.
Daniel Sokol is a former university lecturer in medical ethics and law, and a barrister at 12 King’s Bench Walk, specialising in personal injury and clinical negligence.