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Nick Gallagher

CEO, The Solicitors Charity

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We understand it’s not enough to focus solely on financial assistance… We must focus on all aspects of well-being: mental, physical, financial, social and professional

Support for solicitors when they need it most

Opinion
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Support for solicitors when they need it most

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Nick Gallagher reflects on how the pandemic has helped The Solicitors’ Charity develop the support it offers

Since the precursor of The Solicitors’ Charity was established in the 1850s (with help from Solicitors Journal), solicitors’ needs have evolved. We always adapt to meet those needs and never more so than in the last year.

We understand it’s not enough to focus solely on financial assistance. We need to consider the whole person if we are to deliver our vision: ‘All solicitors are supported in times of need or crisis’. We must focus on all aspects of wellbeing: mental, physical, financial, social and professional.

In 2020, many people and organisations had to think deeply about how they function. It provided an important opportunity to understand better what solicitors and their dependents need by way of support, now and in the future. We carried out research that has helped us pinpoint current needs and widen access to support.

We will continue to ensure our support helps tackle the impact of long-term health or disability issues – providing equipment, living allowances, adaptations to accommodation and other tailored support. Our commitment to those who need longer term and life-long support remains undimmed.

However, for nearly 60 per cent of research participants, their priority was employment advice, including practical support, such as help with CVs or interview technique. Four in 10 respondents thought our traditional help with day-to-day living costs was important, but similar numbers thought support for re-training or career coaching was a priority.

In response, all solicitors on the roll (or previously on the roll) in England and Wales can now access a wider range of financial, practical and emotional help.

We help ‘plug the gap’ for solicitors with reduced or no work, whose income has fallen below the Joseph Rowntree minimum income standard (a tool that we use to check support eligibility). It measures whether income is sufficient to have what the public sees as a decent standard of living.

We will help with the practicalities of gaining new work, whether that’s career transition counselling, help with CV writing or interviews (including travel expenses), IT for those working from home, practising certificates and even clothing.

Many research participants highlighted the need for more mental wellbeing support. We have long been significant funders of our sister charity, LawCare, who works in this sphere; and we will continue to deepen our relationship with them. We now also fund more fixed duration therapy, prescribed where the NHS is unable to urgently assist.

Overall, our approach is to help solicitors and their dependents return to being self-sustaining, wherever realistically possible.

We can see there has been a shift in the people who seek our help. For instance, between 2014 and 2019, over 60 per cent of the people we helped were 50 or under. In 2020, 88 per cent were 60 or under. We will keep abreast of these changes by deepening our engagement with the profession to understand who needs our help.

I’m optimistic about the support available for solicitors. Our work with other assistance providers is developing; through partnering with other great charities and organisations, we can ensure solicitors receive the right support at the right time.

However, I strongly believe it is not enough for the charity sector alone to pick up the pieces. We must work with individuals, firms and professional bodies to create a movement that strives for greater care for solicitors and better understanding of the pressures they face.

If you would like to support our work, please consider making a donation, individually or from your firm or local law society. A great way firms can help is to donate residual client balances – it’s a simple case of transferring funds once you have carried out the necessary due diligence. We invest these funds to provide part of our income and we give an absolute indemnity we will return them, should the client reappear.

You may be interested in offering peer support, spreading the word about our cause or helping us understand the developing needs of the profession.

To find out more about how you can help and to be kept informed as our opportunities to lend a hand develop, please visit thesolicitorscharity.org/get-involved/volunteering/. And while you are there, sign up to The Solicitors’ Charity Register.

Nick Gallagher is CEO of The Solicitors' Charity thesolicitorscharity.org