New Zealand Law Society - Why practise ACC law — Molly McCarthy, Barrister at Woodward Street Chambers

Why practise ACC law — Molly McCarthy, Barrister at Woodward Street Chambers

I was 14 when I had to accept that my interest in medicine would never amount to a career in the medical profession. Pale, shaking, and on the brink of fainting, I was led from my high school’s science lab by my best friend who had recognised, fortunately before I keeled over, that I was not coping well with the presence of sheep hearts in the lab. Any dream of attending medical school well and truly scuppered, I didn’t think about medicine again until I wound up in my first law job as a litigation solicitor.

My introduction to the ACC bar in fact came through acting as external counsel for ACC. The firm I started at was engaged by ACC to act in respect of a number of appeals, both in the District and appellate courts. As a graduate lawyer, ACC files were a fantastic introduction to the litigation process, and to essential litigation skills including identification of issues, assessment of merits and prospects of success, researching legislative history and understanding the effect of transitional provisions, briefing expert evidence, drafting of submissions, and preparation for hearing. Grappling with those questions and demands in the context of the law as a whole can be overwhelming for a graduate; by contrast, learning the ropes within one statutorily defined practice area is a fast and effective way to build confidence and expertise.

The subject matter, of course, appealed to me too. While I was immensely grateful to be operating within the confines of a single statutory scheme, the variety in terms of medical issues, procedures and expertise was vast. The question that every ACC case boils down to is roughly the same: is the claimant entitled to cover under the Act, and if so, what are they entitled to? The answer to that question will depend on circumstances that are truly unique from claim to claim. Evidence in ACC reviews and appeals is generally by way of written expert reports and a claimant’s medical file, which requires ACC practitioners to have a comprehensive understanding of the medical details and procedures in question. My interest in medicine had persisted since high school, and fortunately it turned out that reading medical reports and making submissions in relation to them was sufficiently removed from the medical frontline for me to be able to dive into the detail without feeling queasy.

Since becoming a barrister, I have acted for claimants in reviews and appeals of ACC’s decisions. In addition to the benefits generally of ACC work, acting for claimants has the added benefit of being incredibly rewarding. Assisting a client impacted by injury to navigate the intricacies of our accident compensation scheme is important work, and it is a privilege to advocate for clients to ensure they receive what they are entitled to. Accidents, injuries and illness have a profound impact on people’s lives, and I am always grateful to my clients for trusting me to ease that burden by advocating on their behalf.

I would recommend ACC work to any practitioner interested in litigation, at any stage of their career. From a professional perspective, the jurisdiction offers aspects of both first instance and appellate work, and the opportunity to develop a range of technical skills. Compared to other practice areas, matters are heard relatively swiftly, and there is no shortage of work, which means plenty of opportunities to get on your feet. From a personal perspective, ACC work is important; it feels good to make a real difference to people’s lives, and to ensure they feel heard.

This article was originally published in a booklet prepared for the NZLS CLE Webinar ACC Fundamentals held on 10 March 2021.

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