Firm profile: Birchall Blackburn

Birchall Blackburn” />North-West firm Birchall Blackburn is taking a legal fight to the US on behalf of patients almost blinded after surgeons fitted damaged lenses in their eyes. Hundreds of mainly elderly cataract sufferers have been left with damaged vision after the lenses, part of a free batch accepted by the NHS, were used in operations in the UK.

The lenses were made by US company Ophthalmic Innovations International. In transit, silicone from the packaging leaked onto the lenses, causing damage. That, in turn, triggered an adverse reaction in some patients, leaving them with cloudy vision.

Birchalls lawyer Duncan Stackhouse has filed the lawsuit in the US against the company, which he hopes could mean a £100,000 payout for every patient. “These patients feel completely let down,” he says. “Every operation carries a risk, so it was enough for them to undergo their initial cataract surgery, but the trauma of discovering their vision was worse than ever and further medical intervention was required was almost too much to bear for some.”

Birchalls senior partner Moira Boyce believes that a combination of the ability to conduct cutting edge litigation, plus the ability to run a high-volume case load will stand the firm in good stead to reap the benefits of the revolutionary reforms of regulation in the legal profession.

“We’ve been looking at doing more bulk work and the personal injury (PI) department in particular has grown rapidly over the past five years,” she says. “We believe that with the upcoming Clementi reforms, the business model we’ve developed on the conveyancing and PI side will make sure that the firm has a successful future.”

The firm hopes to capitalise on the proposed reforms and the promise to liberalise the UK legal market by opening up ownership of legal practices to non-lawyers. In the region of 60 per cent of the firm’s fee income comes from claimant PI work, which includes clinical negligence and industrial disease work.

However, Birchalls is keen to remain a local practice that still has a commitment to publicly-funded criminal and family work. The firm handles a considerable amount of child care work, where there is a large crossover between crime and family work.

“The firm’s criminal practice is relatively small and obviously life is getting tighter for them [thanks to the legal aid payment freeze], but we still see it as a viable department at the moment,” says Boyce. The firm is currently advising the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association on possible actions against the Greater Manchester Police following a demonstration protesting at the visit of the three sons of Malcolm Glazer, the new owner of Manchester United, to the Old Trafford ground in June.

“It has been proven over the years that not going wholesale into one area of work to the detriment of others has kept the firm running since the early 1950s,” she continues. “We pride ourselves on being a North-West generalist firm.”

Senior partner: Moira Boyce

Turnover: £6.5m

Total number of partners: 12

Total number of lawyers: 26 (140 staff in total)

Main practice areas: Personal injury and clinical negligence; family; crime; insolvency; conveyancing; commercial.

Number of offices: Three

Location: Preston, Chorley and Manchester