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  • “The SBA confirms my professional standing as a lawyer

  • “No one should feel their life is in such a state that they can’t ask for help”

  • “You know that there are people there to support you and that you are not alone”

  • “I was not yet suicidal but I was close to breaking point

Volunteer Profile – Geraldine Stephens

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My volunteering role for SBA brings me into direct contact with individual solicitors and their families, to help see how SBA The Solicitor’s Charity might best help them.  It is a privilege to be afforded direct access into the realities of beneficiaries’ lives and to see at first-hand how SBA helps to make a difference for people in need.

I first heard about SBA when, during my previous role, I became part of the Stockport Law Society.   I am sure I speak for many solicitors when I say I did not even know what SBA was!   I did some research on their website and found the beneficiaries’ stories quite emotional and touching.   It is so clear that solicitors are proud people who do not always want to ask for help but sometimes have little choice.

People assume that all lawyers are “rich” but I know that the reality is very different.  Due to the fact that I qualified around the recession, I saw colleagues and friends being made redundant.  I saw friends never qualify and left with only the debt of trying to fulfill their dream.  I know I was very lucky and it could have been very different for me.

People in the profession need to know about what the SBA can do to help

I am from Belfast and I grew up in the troubles.  I saw firsthand how the law can protect people but also how it was used to victimise and segregate people.   I come from an area of Belfast where there are high rates of social deprivation and unemployment.  My parents always encouraged me to be what I wanted to be and I chose not to be influenced by social-economic boundaries and to pursue my career.

I attended the College of Law in Chester in 2005/06 and still regard it as one of the best years of my life.  I studied the Public Legal Services Route.  This was a new pathway, designed to enhance awareness of and facilitate experience in the public funded sector and meant I attended five extra classes throughout the year.  Legal aid clients differ from clients served by much of the legal profession and at times they require greater protection.  Often they make up the poorest sector of society and include the mentally ill, people suffering from addiction and those who endure social exclusion.  I wanted to use my legal knowledge to ensure needs were met, regardless of funding options.

After Chester, I secured a paralegal role with a firm just outside Manchester.  This was around the time of the recession and work for our firm began to slow down really quickly. It was a very difficult, dark and uncertain time for my firm that had a huge conveyancing department. Along with colleagues, we ended up reducing our working week to 4 days to avoid redundancies.  This was just one of the many ways that our firm tried to reduce overheads in order to retain employees during the financial downturn and negative economic growth.

On my one day off work a week, I used the time to work part-time, volunteer and apply for training contracts.  I decided to give myself a year to secure my training contract, otherwise I would consider another career.   An exact year later, after many interviews, I assumed it simply was not meant to be and I handed in my notice.  My employer responded by offering me a training contract that very day.  I worked at that firm for eight years, as a paralegal, trainee solicitor and solicitor.

I was admitted to the Roll at the beginning of 2012.  Although I had thought about becoming a legal aid solicitor, life does not always go the way you expect and I qualified as a litigation solicitor, which is a role I thoroughly enjoy.

I have always continued volunteering in some capacity and as a way of putting something back into the community as well as for my own professional and personal development.  I have helped run a free legal advice centre since 2010 and I also assist with another charitable organisation in Manchester.

I now work for Blackstone Solicitors in Hale and I am currently Vice President of Trafford Law Society.  People in the profession need to know about what the SBA can do to help, so it is important to forge connections with local law societies and help spread the word, not only by word of mouth but also via social media.


 

We are always on the look-out for SBA volunteers. Find out more about the Area Representative role and how you can help support colleagues and their families. 

 

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