To celebrate National Pro Bono Week, Ralph Johnson, a senior paralegal in our Pro Bono department, has provided an insight into his role and the challenges faced by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Tell us about your role
I am a senior paralegal in the Pro Bono department which sits within our injury departments. The Pro Bono department provides the ‘Legal Service’ which is a free service intended to provide advice and assistance to those who have suffered serious injury. I assist with a wide range of practical issues which our client’s face which include financial issues, applying for welfare benefits, advising on employment rights, dealing with Court of Protection applications and advising on powers of attorney.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
One of my favourite aspects of the role is being in direct contact with my clients daily, and the significant responsibility that comes with this. It has allowed me to build invaluable communication and client care skills.
I also value the opportunity to assist people who may not otherwise have access to the advice they need. Many of my clients would not be able to pay for the advice available to them through the Legal Service as they do not have the financial means to do so. Our department is unique, and I’m proud to work for such a good cause.
Lastly, everyone in the team is lovely, and we work so well together. We deal with a broad range of issues and can rely on each other’s combined expertise and knowledge of all the issues our clients face.
What do you find the most difficult about your role?
It can be tough to deal with such devastating circumstances on a daily basis, but I always try to step back and take the view that I am there to help my client with the issues they are facing following their injury in any way I can. I make sure my clients are aware of this and hope to make them feel comfortable enough to ask me for help with an issue while they concentrate on their recovery and rehabilitation.
Has the pandemic had an impact on your role?
Many of our pro bono patients are vulnerable and at high risk of catching coronavirus and, understandably, hospitals have been closed to most visitors since lockdown began in March. Before the pandemic, we often conducted meetings in person and attended hospitals regularly. My role has adapted well to restrictions and I now exclusively undertake meetings by telephone or video conference.
A particular challenge has been assisting clients with the execution of powers of attorney. The Office of the Public Guardian still requires wet signatures on the document, meaning electronic signatures cannot be used, even during this unprecedented time. I have had to post draft documents to clients with strict instructions to follow, but as I can’t be there to oversee it, mistakes can be made, which delays the process even further.
To mitigate these difficulties, we have donated several iPads which have enabled us to meet our clients over Zoom.
What effect has the pandemic had on your clients and what challenges are they facing?
Unfortunately, the pandemic has increased the number of individuals and families requiring pro bono assistance due to sudden financial hardship. It has also thrown up new legal issues such as the rights of furloughed workers.
Along with having to deal with a new life-changing injury and the major adjustments that come with it, many of our clients are vulnerable and have had to shield during this time. Not being able to see relatives or have the ability to resume ‘normal’ life means that many are now seeing a detrimental change to their mental health too. Recovery is also taking longer, as rehabilitation and outpatient appointments have been delayed. Many of our clients were discharged home from hospital early to limit their chances of contracting Covid-19, but this means that their treatment has stopped.
What will you be doing differently in the second lockdown in comparison to the first?
I spent the first lockdown in the countryside with my parents. It was nice to be out of the city, but this time around I will be staying in London. I will have to make sure I get plenty of fresh air and exercise. No doubt, the temptation will be to stay indoors now the nights are closing in. I am keen to maintain a healthy work-life balance, particularly when working from home.
I will not miss commuting in the cold weather and aim to use the extra time making hearty winter meals at home. You’ll find me with a wooden spoon in one hand and my computer mouse in the other. I’ve also made the important decision to have a haircut before the second lockdown to avoid growing another man bun!
The Legal Service – We are here to help
The Legal Service, delivered by our pro bono team, provides patients with advice without obligation, for however long it takes to resolve the issue. Our support is available regardless of the circumstances of an accident and regardless of whether a patient has a personal injury claim.
In these difficult times, the concerns of our pro bono clients are likely to be more stark than those in more fortunate circumstances. The Legal Service will be available throughout the crisis to help in any way we can to ease the burden on our clients.
To get advice from The Legal Service, please contact Kara Smith by phone on 020 7822 8000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find further information regarding our injury expertise, experience and team on our Personal Injury pages.
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