03 May Halpern “never lets guard down” when it comes to birth injury cases
For Halpern, a senior lawyer at the firm and one of Canada’s leading legal practitioners in birth injury litigation, it is not merely a vocation but a constant pursuit of knowledge.
“I handled my first birth injury case about 30 years ago and started working with experts in the field. I realized that it was an extremely difficult, very challenging area, and you really must do a lot of work to do it well,” he says. “I decided I was going to make myself truly one of the better medical malpractice lawyers in the country, and I spent the next two decades getting versed on the science. I study the literature, constantly interact with top medical experts, and I do all that is necessary to ensure that I am doing the best job for these children.”
BILA founding member
That drive for knowledge and excellence led Halpern to become one of the founding members of the Birth Injury Lawyers Alliance (BILA), an exclusive group of lawyers from across Canada.
BILA was formed in 2016 by lawyers with considerable experience in birth injuries cases to better serve their young clients and their families.
“The founding members of BILA would attend conferences and educational seminars, and we would get together to talk medicine and trial tactics,” he says. “We decided to form this group to ensure we kept up with the medicine and the science. These cases are extremely intricate. The medicine is very complicated, so it’s important to share knowledge, strategies and experiences.”
Halpern says it’s not only a challenge to get the foundation necessary to be an effective advocate on behalf of the victims of birth injuries; it can be a monumental task keeping up with new developments.
“You’ve got to do the research,” he says, “It’s a constant endeavour, a never-ending learning process, and you can’t let your guard down.”
Collaboration and an all-for-one approach
While the lawyers at BILA work entirely independently, they collaborate on strategy and sharing of ideas and knowledge.
“BILA lawyers share access to legal and medical resources to ensure that all their birth injury clients receive the highest quality representation and the most current information needed to effectively prosecute these difficult cases. Regular communication and contact between the members of BILA is intended to maintain competency in acting in these matters,” according to the Alliance.
“In a sense, every client, no matter who their particular BILA lawyer is, will benefit from the collective knowledge and experience of all the members of BILA. There is a considerable benefit to having access to this impressive depth and breadth of experience.”
The group’s all-for-one approach has obvious benefits for malpractice victims and their families, Halpern says.
“If there’s anything that I don’t really know, I can always call on my colleagues at BILA to find the answer, or we’re going to talk it out, or somebody’s going to have the literature that I am missing,” he says. “It is a very important resource, and it helps to ensure that the parents and children that we counsel get the representation they deserve.”
An exclusive group of leading lawyers
Halpern says BILA has “some of the best lawyers in each jurisdiction who do this just kind of work,” and membership will remain exclusive.
Halpern says few people – even those practising personal injury law – realize how difficult and involved birth injury cases can be.
“Often, cases don’t move forward because the people looking at them didn’t examine the case properly or just didn’t have the experience to analyze it as carefully as a birth-injury lawyer must do,” Halpern adds. “This is not the kind of field you should be dabbling in. There is too much at stake.”
A leader in medical malpractice law
The Holland Group
Halpern is also a member of The Holland Group, chaired by former Ontario Court of Appeal Justice John Laskin. It is an exclusive committee as well, made up of lawyers from both the plaintiff and defence bars.
“The Holland Group is made up of some of the best medical malpractice lawyers in Ontario working together on important issues in a very collaborative way to establish best practices in our field,” Halpern says. “What’s remarkable about this group is how cohesive it is and how well members work together to find common purpose on matters that are important to the justice system as a whole.”
Critique of SOGC Guidelines
Halpern has also written quite extensively about birth trauma issues, both legal and medical. Recently he penned an extensive critique of the 2020 Clinical Practice Guideline No. 396, issued in March by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada.
“I’ve presented on that critique, and I’m going to be presenting again probably fairly soon,” he says. “In my article, I stated that the best defence to litigation is better medical care. The medical profession needs to reduce the number of children affected by asphyxia in labour. That is the best way to reduce the number of lawsuits.”
Junk science and the need for rigorous research
Halpern says he is “always on the lookout for junk science.”
“One thing some literature has been successful in doing is putting up obstacles for plaintiffs to succeed in medical malpractice cases,” he explains. “That is done by publishing literature in reputable medical journals that can be used to shield liability.”
Halpern says he looks for the “junk science” papers and will point out flaws in the findings.
“It seems to me that some in the obstetrical community might be more interested in defending lawsuits than promoting better health for babies,” he says. “My hope is that I can point out the shortcomings in some of this published literature and get medical professionals to think more about guidelines and approaches that are going to reduce illness in babies, as opposed to giving them ammunition to fight lawsuits.”
Halpern says, “the job of a lawyer is to dig deep into the facts and circumstances of each case to determine whether it has merit and then give solid, reliable advice to their clients.”
To be effective, he says, lawyers have to go the extra mile, especially in a field as demanding as medical malpractice.
“There’s no substitute for hard work. If you want to be top of the game, you’ve got to work hard, and I do,” Halpern says.