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Making a difference in the Midlands

Guest blog: Debra Burton, volunteer for SBA The Solicitors’ Charity

When most people think of solicitors, they think of middle-aged men in pinstripes and wigs arguing cases in London and earning mega bucks. As a young(ish?!) female solicitor from a North East working class background, now living and working in the East Midlands, the reality is far removed from the perception.

Indeed the vast majority of solicitors are not in London city firms but rather work in smaller firms covering the length and breadth of the country, coming from all sorts of backgrounds and offering a full range of legal services (contentious probate anyone?).

It is therefore only right that any charity dedicated to supporting all solicitors in times of need, properly represents its users.

So here I am – one of the SBA The Solicitors’ Charity’s volunteers for my adoptive East Midlands. Covering six counties (yes, I’ve included Rutland in that), an area of over 15,000 square kilometres and a population of over 4.5 million, there are plenty of solicitors who are in ‘my patch’.

Therefore the odds are that right at this moment some of those solicitors in the East Midlands are struggling financially. Either through ill-health, an accident or redundancy. So there is plenty of opportunities for the SBA The Solicitors’ Charity (and by association, me) to make a difference in that solicitor’s and/or their family’s lives.

So, as volunteer, what do I do?

After a solicitor has made the often difficult first step to ask the charity for help, and they have completed the relevant paperwork, us volunteers are asked to go and meet with the potential beneficiary in an environment where they are comfortable. We go through their paperwork to make sure it’s all in order and if necessary, signpost the services that SBA The Solicitors’ Charity can offer. We are the ‘face to face connection’ between a potential beneficiary and the dedicated team at charity HQ (who do the real hard work!).

As a volunteer, it’s not my role to make a decision about the application, I’m simply there to gather information and then pass it on, so there is no pressure on me or the person sitting opposite me. More importantly, volunteers don’t judge. Trust me, after 15 years practising in the field of litigation, there is not much that I haven’t seen! Also as a fellow solicitor, I’m always acutely aware that it could just as easily be me sat across the table. No one knows what crisis may be awaiting any of us and life can change in an instant.

I’ve found the three years I have been a volunteer to be rewarding but also slightly frustrating as I feel that I could be doing more and helping more people. The charity is ready and willing to assist any solicitor in times of need and I’m ready to play my small part.

So, I’m actually going to ask the solicitors of the East Midlands to do me a favour. If you are going through a difficult time, then please reach out to SBA The Solicitors’ Charity. Or if you know someone who is, tell them about us. Ask them to take that first step – visit the website and find out more. It’s all confidential and the staff will be friendly and supportive. If it turns out that I’m lucky enough to be appointed their volunteer, then the most difficult thing in the whole process may be simply trying to understand my dulcet northern tones!

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