There will be plenty of four letter words you might want to say in this situation. Here’s one you can use instead.
People often think of SBA The Solicitors’ Charity as the place to turn for nursing home fees or disabled aids and adaptations. For some of our beneficiaries, this is exactly how we help. Our track record in supporting older or disabled colleagues to live with independence and dignity is nearly 160 years old and it’s a tradition of which we’re very proud.
Changes in legal services mean changes for SBA
But such individuals are now in the minority in the overall profile of the people SBA supports. Changes in legal services – especially market contraction – have brought changes for SBA too. The people most likely to approach their charity for help in 2016 are no longer pensioners – they’re aged between 40 and 50 instead.
Nor do they have a physical disability or chronic illness (although if they are unwell, this will often be the result of poor mental health). Individuals still in work may have already been through several cycles of redundancy (particularly if their work was in criminal practice). They may now be on shorter hours or holding consultancy roles decades earlier in their career than they ever envisaged. A fifth have children of school age and sometimes there are additional caring responsibilities for elderly parents.
Debt – a worrying word for solicitors
The resulting pinch on household finances brings another four letter word into play and it’s one that’s very worrying for solicitors. Debt. Over the last few years, and in line with national trends, SBA has seen the level of non-mortgage debt rise inexorably; it now averages £11,135 per beneficiary.
If life in the law is still treating you well, it’s relatively easy to accommodate this level of borrowing. However, if your net household income is the same as it is for the average SBA beneficiary – £11,800 – it will be very difficult indeed. It’s only a matter of time before the creditors’ letters arrive, bringing with them potentially severe consequences, both personally and professionally.
Not pleasant reading, is it? So how do solicitors find themselves in such an unenviable place? Research shared by LawCare, which provides specialist health and wellbeing support for members of the law professions, suggests that lawyers are significantly over-qualified in the art of denial.
“Solicitors strive to be the best that they can be”
The very characteristics that make someone good at their job – exacting attention to detail, predicting outcomes accurately, managing heavy workloads and heavier client expectations – may also prevent them from recognising when trouble is closer to home. Lawyers’ skills are honed over many years to take control in times of chaos. This means it can be overwhelming when, for whatever reason, chaos comes to call on you.
“Solicitors are proud people,” says Christl Hughes, past President of Leicestershire Law Society and Chair of SBA’s Board of Trustees. “We spend our working lives helping to solve other people’s problems and we strive to be the best that we can be. There is a fear that, if we speak out about our own problems, it will be seen as a sign of weakness that undermines everything for which we’ve worked so hard.”
SBA – the place of last resort
Dervilla Carroll, SBA’s Beneficiary Caseworker, agrees. “Too often,” she says, “SBA is approached as the place of last resort. People have ignored or hidden issues that might once have been manageable, but they’re now at the point where things have become desperate.”
Crushing personal debt or poor mental health are not the only things about which solicitors are silent, even amongst those closest to them. SBA beneficiaries can be dealing with serious challenges, ranging from family breakdown, bereavement and domestic violence, to addiction and substance abuse.
No one need struggle alone when adversity strikes. The most important first step is to break that taboo of silence and reach out for help.
A community of support
If you are or were a solicitor (or the financial dependant of a solicitor) and you are experiencing personal financial hardship as a result of low or no income, please call SBA The Solicitors’ Charity for an informal and confidential chat.
There is also a wider community of support into which practitioners can lean; find out about other sources of help provided by LawCare, the Solicitors’ Assistance Scheme and the Law Society’s own Pastoral Care Team.
Don’t wait to hit crisis point. Act now.