Attending the Oncology Day Unit for the first time with my Dad, Brian, for a blood transfusion shocked me on several levels.Firstly, whilst there was lots of information from Macmillan about cancer, there was no information offering legal support to cancer patients and their carers . As a solicitor it struck me that many patients may need legal advice about work; coping with debt; relationship issues; guardianship of children; insurance claims; housing and mortgage issues, wills and lasting powers of attorney and so on. Then I was amazed by the number of people both young and old sitting in the ward undergoing chemotherapy or having blood transfusions – sometimes for as long as 4-5 hours at a time. It’s strange to say that I ‘people watched’, but that’s what I did. I’d watch patients staring into space and I would wonder what they were thinking and in particular, whether they had any legal worries. After my third or fourth time at the Unit I spoke to my Dad’s Consultant, Dr Williams, Consultant Haematologist and asked him if I could help one or two people. He thought this was a great idea and asked if I would meet some other health professionals so that I could get a better understanding of some of the legal issues patients worried about as a result of their diagnosis. A meeting was set up a couple of days later and I met other haematologists, oncologists, specialist nurses and occupational therapists. They gave me some examples of legal issues their patients had to contend with whilst undergoing treatment and I knew that I could help. More importantly I learnt that for many of their patients they have nowhere to turn and to simply be told that a lawyer could help was sufficient to give them the peace of mind which was preventing them from sleeping. That was 2009 …….I must confess I had no idea how difficult it would be to help seriously ill people. It’s one thing to say there’s a massive need but quite another for doctors and other health professionals to risk referring their patients to solicitors. Doctors were (and still are) very protective of their patients and didn’t want some ‘ambulance chaser’ or ‘fat cat’ taking advantage of them whilst they were in a very vulnerable position. It took some persuading that I was neither! It then took nearly nine months to persuade the Charity Commission that my aim was charitable as I wanted to provide free advice to patients diagnosed with life limiting/life threatening illness. They confessed that they had not been confronted by a solicitor wanting to set up such a charity. Quite unbelievably I hit another stumbling block. As a sole practitioner there are Rules which prevent us from being engaged in more than one business (including charities). I therefore applied for a Waiver of the Rules. I thought “what the hell, the worst that can happen is that I can be struck off” but I’d started helping people from about August 2010 and many of the patients were terminally ill. Given their position the fear of being “struck off” seemed so trivial. To see somebody’s facial expressions visibly change when you say “I can help you” is just the most amazing feeling. Or when a patient asks for a cuddle because it’s the only way they know or can show gratitude is priceless. It’s worth the three years it took for the Solicitors Regulatory Authority to grant a Waiver of the Rules (eventually granted in January 2014).Sadly, my Dad, and inspiration died in September 2013. His death turned my world upside down. Apart from the feelings of pain, grief and helplessness I could now put myself in the position of a family member of many of the clients we help who are coming to their end of life. There is a total feeling of lack of control and desperation and you so need to trust the people around you who are helping your loved one – irrespective of their profession. I could understand then why so many of our clients speak so highly of our professionalism, sensitivity and trustworthiness. I have to confess that after my Dad died I felt that I couldn’t continue driving the charity forward as it was all too personal and really wanted to give up. ’Pathetic’ my husband said. You’ve been through so much in the last four years. You just need to take a little time off, brush yourself down and remember everything you’ve been through to set LegaCare up ….. then get back to work’. Oh …. I forgot to mention that once I’d decided to help patients I became so determined to succeed. I was so naive. I thought because I had so much support from the medical profession and it was the first charity of its kind it would be so easy to raise funds. How wrong was I? At the time of registering LegaCare there were about 180,000 registered charities and it was so unbelievably difficult to get funding from anywhere because there were no markers to judge us against, or statistics to show the case of need. As I was so passionate about LegaCare I sold my house to put vital funds into the charity. My husband said “You can’t have both. Either sell the house or stop running LegaCare.” I asked him which he’d prefer and thankfully his response was “the house is bricks and mortar – the charity’s your world. I’ve seen the people you help and the impact it has on them and at the end of the day you can’t take it with you”.I’m delighted that at the time of writing this story we’ve helped over 600 people in the North East (April 2014) and have amazing support from Professor Sir Mike Richards CBE, National Inspector of Hospitals, Professor Sean Duffy, National Clinical Director of Cancer, Professor Alistair Burns, National Clinical Director of Dementia and the Elderly and Professor Bee Wee, National Clinical Director of End of Life Care
Prior to joining Legacare, Emma worked for large law firms in Leeds and Newcastle City Centre before deciding she wanted to have a change in career and help those in need. Emma deals with private client issues including wills, Lasting Powers of Attorney and Court of Protection matters and estate administration. Her main reasons for wanting to join Legacare are to provide support and peace of mind to clients and their families at a time when they most need it. Emma is married with 2 sons aged 5 and 3. She enjoys spending time with her family, dining out and is a committee member and secretary of her sons’ school PTA and Playgroup.
Jo comes to Legacare as a Trainee Solicitor after a previous career as a Senior Manager for a large blue chip company and a period as a director of her husband`s engineering consultancy. She has a wealth of experience in employment matters and has a keen interest in family law. Having grown up and spent her formative adult years in a city environment, Jo now lives in the Northumberland countryside with her husband, two children and a variety of pets! She enjoys walking, the gym and growing her own vegetables (badly!)
Catharine is married with 2 children aged 4 and 8. Before joining Legacare in 2012. Catharine’s aspirations to become a solicitor were put on hold whilst she travelled the world, living in Egypt, USA, Germany and Ireland. She previously worked for the Legal Aid Agency, a family lawyer in the states and a Swedish multi-national. Her hobbies include travelling, fine food and wine and she is desperately trying to enjoy running.
Sadie started as a volunteer at LegaCare in 2012 whilst studying Law. She then joined us on a full time basis working as a Paralegal after graduating with a Masters in Law at Northumbria University in July 2013. She moved from Hull to Newcastle 5 years ago and loved the city so much that she decided to stay here. Sadie’s interests include travelling, trying out new restaurants with friends and is a coffee connoisseur!
Lesley married with two children aged 13 and 11. Before having a career break to bring up her children, she worked for 12 years at Nissan as part of its corporate public relations team. She was responsible for the contribution the Sunderland car plant made to Nissan’s national PR strategy and was a high profile point of contact for the regional media. Her hobbies include spending time with her family, keep fit and reading books.
Carol started volunteering with Legacare in 2011 and began a training contract in 2012. Before starting with Legacare she worked in the private and charitable sectors. Her hobbies include outdoor activities, spending time with friends and family, reading and travel.
Liz is married with two girls aged 12 and 9. Before joining Legacare in 2012, first as a volunteer and now as a Paralegal, Liz lived in Switzerland and Germany with her family. Now happily settled back in the UK, she enjoys assisting clients, particularly on Lasting Powers of Attorney and Court of Protection work. In her free time, when not joining the ranks of ‘Mums Taxis’, Liz enjoys walking her dog, Barney.
Helen joined Legacare as a volunteer not long after the charity started, helping out with admin duties and helped whenever she was able to! She was thrilled to be able to join as a member of staff in November 2012 after having worked as part of the admin staff at a Pharmaceutical Wholesale business for the previous four years. She has 3 children and loves running, Zumba and singing as part of the Worship Team in her church.