As a young law student in Johannesburg during the dying days of apartheid, Nikki Whiting had a number of eye-opening experiences that put her on the road to where she is today. Nikki joined Maurice Blackburn earlier this year after several years in other plaintiff and defendant firms in Sydney. She has recently attained her specialist accreditation in personal injury law.
She recalls that her time in South Africa now seems like another lifetime, “I was teargassed many a time during my student life on campus during protests against apartheid in the late 1980s, and that made me realise that I wanted to work in the human rights area and do legal work in the public interest for disadvantaged people. It was a time of great politicisation everywhere in South Africa,” she says.
After graduating from the University of the Witwatersrand where she learned to speak Zulu, Nikki did a fellowship at the Legal Resources Centre, South Africa’s largest public interest and human rights law firm and was fortunate enough to meet Nelson Mandela following his release from prison in 1990. The National Director of the Legal Resources Centre became the first Judge President of the Constitutional Court and whilst there, Nikki was also involved with other lawyers at the Legal Resources Centre in researching the jurisprudence and case law which gave rise to the Constitution for the post-apartheid era in South Africa.
Her interest in medical law however was spawned earlier than this, in her final year as a law student. She recalls, “I was working in a pharmacy and one of the pharmacists was studying medicine, and I was tempted to study medicine too, because I found it all very fascinating, but decided to stick with law and worked in personal injuries from the outset.
“Medical negligence in South Africa is very different. People don’t know their rights, they don’t have an understanding of what they are entitled to if something goes wrong with their medical care because there is bad medicine.”
Nikki and her family made the decision to come to Australia in the early 2000s and Nikki began working in insurance and medical law on the defendant side to learn how the system worked.
Having worked in a defendant environment she is in a strong position to be one step ahead of her opponents. “I’ve always preferred the plaintiff side but having acted for the defendant I understand the mindset, the inner workings of the other side, usually my opponents are previous colleagues and that can make the litigation and mediation process less stressful when negotiating as your opponents know you and you know them.”
“Working out the causation side of a matter is always challenging and is what I enjoy. It is gratifying to build a case and know that may mount an argument that will make the difference to the person’s case. We can’t change what has happened to someone but we can provide them with a financial outcome and I find that deeply rewarding.”