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Giving a listening ear to lawyers is a privilege. At LawCare, we offer people a place to tell their story. Many callers are stressed, lonely and frustrated - a stage that I was once familiar with. I offer a listening ear and often share my experiences with them.
The stresses of practicing law are caused by the requirement to do the best for your client within difficult time limits. This is made harder by the fact that there is usually another solicitor acting for his client with the same agenda, but their needs may be opposed. The solicitor is asked to go to extreme lengths to end up arriving somewhere in the middle, after being through the wringer to get there. The clients walk away reasonably happy, but I wonder whether testing the other side for potential weakness is really acting in the best interests of the client. It does not generate great creativity but instead negativity and defensiveness.
To be honest, I never thought I would end up as a volunteer for LawCare, but I had been aware of it for many years. I’m 62 now, and when I was at my peak of stress as a sole practitioner solicitor my eye was drawn to LawCare ads in Law Society Gazette. At that time I sought professional personal help in the form of group therapy, in a group of recovering addicts, even though I was not an addict myself. I spent every Thursday night at group for two hours for four years, starting at the age of 50. The other clients were half my age. This changed my life.
Having finished my group work, I wanted to give something back, so I volunteered for LawCare. I wanted to help others, without being a trained therapist. I was also not really interested in practicing as a solicitor any longer, and now I am much happier in a career in mediation.
Most of mediation work is with separating couples, and there is a correlation between this and my volunteer role at LawCare. Whatever is bothering the person you are talking to is valid for them, and it is my job to make them feel that. Where they can take that is another day’s work. Someone once said to me ‘think chance, change, and choice’. If there’s deep unhappiness something has to change. We aim to help them consider their choices, to reach out for professional help if needed, and to open up to those around them.
Declan Foley, LawCare volunteer
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