16 July 2001
"At Alexander Harris we try to make sure that the clients we work for never come back," asserts managing partner Anne Alexander.
This may seem a strange way to run a business, but Alexander Harris specialises in medical negligence litigation for clients that include the families of Harold Shipman's victims. Such people, the firm hopes, will never suffer at the hands of any medical institution again.
The firm was founded in 1989 by Anne Alexander and joint senior partner David Harris to provide victims of large medical institutions' negligence with access to justice. Based in Altringham and London, the firm has 105 legal staff, including eight partners. It also employs five full-time nursing staff to assess and advise potential clients.
Since its inception, the firm has advised on most of the high-profile medical negligence cases that have entered the national consciousness over the last 12 years.
Alexander Harris has advised clients affected by the two most notorious medical murderers this decade, Harold Shipman and the serial killer nurse Beverley Allitt. It is still involved with the victims' families taking part in the Harold Shipman enquiry, work it initially took on as a pro bono project in early 2000. The firm is also leading an investigation into the use of the hallucinogenic drug LSD on psychiatric patients in the 1950s and 1960s.
The mixture of ethical work and headline media coverage that the firm offers is many a young lawyer's dream, says Alexander. Even though trainees start on below £15,000 a year and the firm does not pay for their LPCs, places are nevertheless highly competitive, she claims.
The firm aims for organic growth and seems to be heading in the right direction. At only 12 years old, it already boasts two partners who trained at the firm. No partners have left this year, although Alexander admits that there are not many positions for them to apply for.
"Our lawyers are so specialised that they could only move into another clinical negligence or personal injury (PI) practice. They're not banking lawyers and there are certainly not many firms in the City they could move to. Young lawyers who apply to Alexander Harris need to think very, very carefully about whether this is the work they want to be doing forever."
On average, legal staff work eight to nine hours a day at Alexander Harris, which could be one incentive to work there forever. But according to Alexander, the emotive nature of the job can make it more stressful than working 12-hour days in the City. The 10 legal staff working on the Shipman enquiry have all had bereavement counselling to help them deal with the plight of the victims' families. Spending all day every day dealing with possibly hundreds of murders at the hands of one doctor is harder than drafting merger agreements, says Alexander.
However, unlike many other legal aid firms, Alexander Harris is in good financial shape. It predicts a turnover of more than £5m this year, a £1m increase on 1999-2000. The eight partners are paid on a lockstep basis, which seems appropriate, as Alexander Harris is definitely not an 'eat what you kill' firm.
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