“These events are tragedies, but when they happen, people need help. I hope that our expertise means we’ve got a real ability to give the help people need.” So says Des Collins, senior partner of the eponymous Watford practice, of the firm’s niche workload. Collins Solicitors has carved out a nationwide reputation as one of the pre-eminent ‘disaster-based’ personal injury (PI) litigation firms, advising victims of the Paddington rail crash of 1999 and the Southall disaster of September 1997.
Collins set up his firm in 1995 and within 18 months it was involved in the first major rail crash following rail privatisation. “We were a stone’s throw from Watford Train Station when the 1996 crash happened,” says Collins. One person died and 69 people were injured in a head-on crash at Watford Junction. Collins acted for around 35 of the victims, handling claims worth anywhere between £5,000 and £1m.
Following Watford, the firm’s reputation for transport litigation made it the obvious choice when the next post-privatisation disaster occurred, this time at Southall. Collins felt strongly about what he was seeing in the course of his work. “Something was badly wrong in the privatised system,” he maintains. “We campaigned for a public inquiry and then, just as this started, came the Ladbroke Grove catastrophe of September 1999.”
The firm was instructed on behalf of 105 of the victims and was retained in a public inquiry to look at safety in rail and comparative industries. By now the firm’s ability to handle class actions in transport litigation meant that Collins soon found himself heading up claims on behalf of 350 people against major airlines for ‘economy class syndrome’ caused by Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). The firm has also acted for victims of the Hatfield and Potters Bar rail crashes.
“Around 40 per cent of our work is transport litigation,” says Collins. “The rest is made up of professional negligence claims, road traffic accidents, personal injury and the like. We’re primarily a civil litigation firm, although we also handle matrimonial and conveyancing matters.” It also undertakes pro bono work on behalf of UK victims of 11 September.
The firm’s high profile means that a lot of work comes through recommendations and word of mouth. “I can’t recall ever directly advertising,” says Collins. “We don’t target claims and the work we do speaks for us rather than anything else.”
Collins is a believer in first-rate IT, without which “you can’t take command of the complex work we do”. A new case-management system was installed 18 months ago, utilised in an environment that Collins says is “open door” rather than open plan. Management is via monthly partners’ meetings.
The substantial litigation on the firm’s books might tempt many a senior partner into headlong expansion, but not Collins. “When the work’s there we prefer to take on extra staff on fixed-term contracts,” he explains. “We aim to continue a steady growth pattern but don’t want to double in size – which would be easy, but could lead to problems in the medium to long term. I’d see us being perhaps half as big again in five years’ time.”
|Executive||Senior partner Des Collins|
|Total number of partners||Three|
|Total number of lawyers||10|
|Main practice areas||Civil litigation, professional negligence and personal injury|
|Key clients||Victims of transport-related incidents|
|Number of offices||One|