Simon Arnold: When life goes full circle

A new profession at the Bar for this extraordinary man who, after a catastrophic road traffic accident, is driven to represent those with similarly significant injuries

I had no suspicion that when I left work one afternoon, 12 years ago, I wouldn’t be returning the following day – or at all.

I was pronounced dead on the night of the accident, but extraordinarily survived. Admitted to a specialist spinal injuries unit, I spent 10 months in recovery and rehabilitation. I remained entirely paralysed for four months, unable to move from the neck down and persisting with hourly routines of physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

My life had changed irreversably and I knew nothing of my own abilities, which was very strange at the age of 23. Fortunately, I had a network of friends and family that I could rely on, notwithstanding the numerous medical experts that were managing my health and welfare needs. Physically, however, I had regressed to functioning as a child and was totally dependent on others, whilst trying to adapt to my injuries and think differently.

Before my accident, I had elected to follow a career in aerospace engineering. This, however, was no longer a viable career path, especially if I wanted to promote my independence.

As my thoughts turned to a legal career, I realised I would have to overcome my physical limitations (I could no longer use my hands) but also develop mentally if I was to engage fully with this new and exciting profession.

At the time, I hadn’t realised that each and every experience was preparing me both mentally and physically for the challenges I was yet to face at the Bar. I didn’t see my disability as a barrier but merely a challenge and one that could be overcome by determination and foresight. The uncertainty made me more resilient and more able to expect the unexpected.

I understood early on that I would need the right equipment in order to progress. I began to research what was available and how it could help me. While there were a vast number of suppliers with all sorts of equipment, it was usually prohibitively expensive. Fortunately, there were a number of charities to help fund this type of equipment.

My first priority, however, was to be mobile and for this I required a wheelchair for indoors and out. To travel short distances I chose an electric wheelchair, which enabled me to get around independently. Next was a solution for travelling further afield. Access to public transport since injuring myself in 2006 had undoubtedly improved, although not sufficiently enough for me to rely on it unreservedly.

As a keen driver, I had already researched complex adaptations that would enable me to get back on the road. At the time this seemed like a distant prospect, whereas, now I can attest to driving over half a million miles in vehicles that have been adapted to drive directly from my wheelchair.

I have always been driven and ambitious. Extraordinarily, my introduction to law was from a very different perspective, not least because I would eventually represent those with significant injuries like myself.

I realised that I had a unique insight into what the impact a catastrophic injury might have on an individual and their family. I also knew how incredibly difficult it was to comprehend life post injury by those in not dissimilar situations. I figured if I was going to make a difference I would have to understand the needs of the person and how these could be met. Understanding a person’s needs is complex at best, especially if my own experiences were to go by, yet I understood that if I could apportion responsibility to a third party, I could rely on the expectation that they would meet the needs of the injured party.

Without legal knowledge and understanding, I could not begin to engage in the harsh realities of litigation. Therefore, once I was discharged from hospital, I completed a law degree, the Bar Professional Training Course, was called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn in 2012 and then took a Masters in International Law and Human Rights. Now qualified, I was in a much better position to think about achieving the positive outcomes for those who had been catastrophically injured.

Analogously, throughout this period I had been meticulously preparing to overcome any aspect of my disability that would hinder my progress both personally and professionally. I managed a team of personal assistants and developed methods to work independently and without restriction, predominantly using technology as my aid. Coincidentally, the courts and generally the legal profession as a whole have also begun to use similar technologies, which will prove advantageous. I was under no illusion that I was entering a highly competitive and ruthless profession, which I was ready to embrace.

I believe that despite being tetraplegic, I have been fortunate not only to return to gainful employment but also to secure a pupillage specialising in helping others who have suffered catastrophic and life changing injuries.

I am always careful not to assume that I automatically understand how a person with a serious injury feels. However, I do believe that I can relate to someone with a serious and catastrophic injury, and moreover have some idea of the processes and equipment that they might have to endure or require in the future.

I believe it is important to know what to prioritise and focus on, in order to secure the best outcome. Additionally, I think it’s essential in the early days of injury to have someone that can plan ahead, because when you are first injured you have no idea of your own abilities or what you might need in the future.

  • Simon Arnold was involved in a serious road traffic accident in 2006, which rendered him tetraplegic. His condition affects all four limbs while he also suffers from the neurological symptoms of his paralysis. He is confined to a power chair, unable to walk and has very limited use of his hands.
  • Just 12 months after his accident, having undergone intensive treatment and rehabilitation, Simon set himself the goal of qualifying as a barrister and enrolled on a law degree.
  • In the years after his accident, he completed the Bar Professional Training Course and was called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn in 2012. He then successfully completed a Masters in International Law and Human Rights and is now undertaking pupillage.

     

 
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Simon Arnold

Simon Arnold is undertaking a pupillage made possible by the imaginative Hilary Meredith Solicitors with his first-six at Exchange Chambers in Manchester.