Thursday, 8 October 2009

Desk Rage

I arrived at my desk this morning to find the most bizzarre selection of objects strewn across its surface:

  • Three different chocolate bars (Galaxy, Dairy Milk and Sainsburys) all opened but with only a couple of squares eaten (no complaint)
  • a £5 note (no complaint there either)
  • A book of TS Eliot poetry
  • A carrier bag containing what I initially thought were onions, but turned out to be daffodil bulbs.
  • A flash gun, case and assorted bits of an old Canon film camera, but no camera.

I work from home, and last night, it appears, my eldest daughter decided to escape the children's party in the lounge by doing her homework in my office. For science she had to compare the properties and ingredients of different types of chocolate. (Why didn't I ever get cool homework like that?) In English she is studying TS Eliot. She is also doing GCSE photography (the camera is in her schoolbag) and Grandma, visiting for the little one's birthday, had given her the bulbs since she is a surprisingly keen gardener for a teenager. Still no idea what the £5 note is about, unless it's payment to me for the use of my desk. Which, to be honest, I think is well deserved. I don't like sharing my space.

"Hotdesking" became popular in the 1990's, as firms started to introduce flexible working time arrangements and discovered that they could save space by having one worker use the desk recently vacated by a part-time colleague. Other workers could be semi-peripatetic, just plopping down at whichever desk happened to be convenient to do whatever they needed to do.

One website which praises hotdesking says "one has no more rights of exclusive ownership to an office desk than one has to a seat on a bus, a restaurant table or a stall in the office toilets". True, but humans are territorial and we like to mark our space. Look at your desk now. Do you have a family photograph somewhere on it? A cute little homily you like? Your special mug? It may belong to the firm, but it's your desk.

Your desk is also somewhere you are guaranteed to have the tools needed to get your job done. You know that your favourite pen and notepad are here. You know that your files are within reach, and where to find everything on the computer. The chair is comfortable and adjusted to the right height, and you know the extention number of the phone and that is has your personal message on the answering service. You need that assurance and comfort in order to do your job properly.

Hotdesking isn't common in the legal profession yet. Personally, I hope it stays that way. Lawyers face enough stress in their day-to-day work without finding daffodil bulbs and camera equipment in their workspace. Although chocolate and money might be a bonus.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Barristers Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)
1800 313145 (Barristers in the Republic of Ireland)


Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Happy Holidays

It’s the middle of the school holidays, and everyone is away on holiday. My husband and eldest daughter are at a church youth camp. My middle daughter is at Brownie camp. My contact at our printer’s, account manager at the stationer’s, and the director at the treatment centre I am trying to arrange a bed at, are all on holiday. As are half the LawCare volunteers and a good number of the counsellors. It’s all most inconvenient!

Actually, I don’t begrudge them a moment of it. After all, I had a wonderful week at my favourite beachfront hotel on the north coast of Majorca last year, and am looking forward to a peaceful and relaxing stay with friends in Wales next week. Holidays are important. A news programme recently interviewed several people in a luxury resort somewhere about the rising cost of holidaying, given the escalation of fuel and food prices. Would they be forgoing their foreign holidays in future? The overwhelming answer was No. Whatever the cost, a holiday was a priority. One man explained “It’s what I work all year for.”

We regularly get stressed and overworked lawyers calling our helpline who have not had a holiday in several years. We have several pieces of advice with regard to taking holidays:

  • Be sure to take your whole holiday entitlement.
  • Tell everyone that you are out of the country – backpacking in Belize or somewhere equally incommunicado – even if you are just painting the spare bedroom.
  • Screen calls and switch off your mobile. DON’T answer calls from the office.
  • Preparation is vital – you won’t relax if you know you’re going to be coming back to a huge pile of work. Assign someone else – or better still, several people – to deal with matters in your absence. Ensure clients know that you are going away, and who they should ask for in your absence.
  • Set your office voicemail to answer, but not to take messages, giving a call-back date which is actually a day or two after your return, so that you are not inundated with phone calls the day you come back.
  • Switching on your Out of Office Reply on your email can invite spam unless you have a very good spam filter. Instead, set up a forward to a colleague or your secretary, and have that person send a standard reply to all genuine enquiries asking them to contact you on your return.
  • Once on holiday, don’t fill every moment. Make sure that for every day you are visiting the sights or enjoying the theme parks you have a day just relaxing round the pool or strolling round the shops. If you insist on trying to pack too much in to your week away you will return to work needing another holiday to get over the first one.

Have a great time!

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Barristers Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)
1800 313145 (Barristers in the Republic of Ireland)

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Out of Touch

I’ve just been listening to a discussion on the radio about the huge pay gap between ordinary workers, often on minimum wage (£5.73 per hour), and the high-flying bosses of their companies who earn what, to ordinary people, seem like obscene amounts (around £2.5 million per annum in some cases). Apparently several MPs have called for a “High Pay Commission” and it was mentioned that they may go so far as to introduce a national maximum wage.

One caller raised the point that the bosses of these companies – and bankers seem to be the biggest offenders – are completely out of touch with the everyday lives of their workers, in a “let them eat cake” type of way. It goes both ways, however. Those of us who are average have a hard time understanding the challenges of those we might consider “mega-rich”.

Although I come from a middle-class family, and went to University, I am often hard-pushed to feel sympathy for those callers to the helpline who are suffering the effects of the recession to such a degree that they can hardly afford the school fees any longer, may have to do without a new car this year, and might even have to move to a smaller house where the children would have to share bedrooms. Because I have never had a new car (mine are usually at least five years old when I buy them) have never even considered sending my children to private school, and my two youngest have shared a bedroom for many years, these things doesn’t seem like so terrible from where I’m sitting.

But I have come to appreciate that actually, financial trials and tragedies are difficult and painful whatever your starting point; whether you are a FTSE100 CEO having to give up the private helicopter and second home in Monte Carlo, or a factory worker faced with working a short week due to cutbacks and thus unable to take the family to Butlin’s. Losing something which was important to your lifestyle is difficult and upsetting, whatever that thing may be. The legal profession is traditionally a well paid one, with ample financial rewards, but many lawyers are finding that they are struggling even to make enough money for the necessities of life. LawCare is here to provide support and empathy as they face this challenge; but we are also here to help those whose trials are outside our personal fields of reference. Whether you are on minimum or maximum wage, the pain of loss and financial challenge is the same, and we are here to offer non-judgmental support and advice.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

1800 303145 (Barristers in the Republic of Ireland)

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Obamacare and LawCare

I’m feeling a little riled at the moment, and it’s the Americans again. President Obama has finally told Americans that since every civilised country provides healthcare for its citizens as a basic human right, it is high times the USA had a system approximating the NHS. So what happens?

The greedy, profiteering health insurance companies get the general population fired up against this “evil” idea with warnings that granny will be told to potter off quietly when her times comes, and there will be a two-year wait for essential operations. What is worse, they use the NHS to illustrate how bad “socialised healthcare” can be by dragging in some disaffected MP and unsuspecting member of the British public, and telling outright lies about how the NHS puts a value of £15,000 on six months of life. (In reality, this is the maximum the NHS will pay for additional experimental treatment predicted to prolong life by six months, but this is in addition to the regular, non-experimental kind.)

Twelve years ago my sister felt some stiffness in her elbow, so she went to her GP who thought it was arthritis. She wasn't convinced, so she went to see a different doctor who referred her to an oncologist. She had several tests and it was discovered that she had a bone cancer called Osteosarcoma. The survival rate for the type she had is 5%.

She was offered an immediate amputation of the arm, but she is a talented musician and wanted to keep the arm if at all possible. So she went to see a top specialist who thought he could remove the bone and give her a titanium prosthesis instead so she could keep her arm. But there was a risk that the two-week delay while the prosthesis was made could allow the cancer to spread.She decided to go for this anyway, and two weeks after her diagnosis she had the bone removed from shoulder to wrist, and the titanium bone put in. It was a very long operation, and she was in hospital for some time afterwards for ongoing treatment.

But it was a total success, she is still playing the piano and flute and has full control of the arm, although it is a little weaker than the other one. Every year she goes back to the hospital for further tests, just to keep an eye on everything and make sure the cancer hasn't spread.Had my sister been American she would have had the amputation. I can’t imagine any insurance company agreeing to a titanium (read: precious metal, very expensive) prosthesis, when it was a risky procedure and a simple and cheap amputation would have been safer. Not only that, but if she was privately insured she would have had to pay a large deductible. And if she didn’t have insurance, she would have had a choice of death or bankruptcy.

Unfortunately it is still true that, as wonderful as the NHS is (and I do believe that it is), there are some things you still have to pay for. It is difficult to get treatment for addiction on the NHS because NICE guidelines say that containment or control are better than cure. There can also be a long waiting list for counselling on the NHS, so we often have to ask other charitable bodies for funding for people. We also have a very small Welfare Fund, which we use sparingly, if help cannot be obtained from any other source. We agree with President Obama – as good health as can be achieved is everyone’s basic right.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Monday, 8 June 2009

Why I love Blackberries

Last week I wrote an article based on the furore caused by an email from a partner at a large London firm who suggested that lawyers should be available to contact by email even when they are away on holiday. In the article I lamented the fact that Blackberries now make it possible for us to access and respond to our email from anywhere, which means that many lawyers are finding themselves effectively on call at times which were usually relatively restful – the commute, their lunch hour, dinner with friends and, yes, whilst backpacking in Nepal.

I don’t own a Blackberry – funds don’t permit – but I have recently changed my opinion of them. They can be very useful from the point of view of the person receiving an email message sent from “my wireless Blackberry mobile”, in that they are quite fiddly and difficult to use, so messages tend to be very short and to the point.

I recently responded to a lengthy email from the director of one of the treatment centres on LawCare’s database who wanted to have an advertisement for their unit in LawCare News, and to have their services promoted by LawCare in other ways. This was not something it was appropriate for us to do, but knowing that he would not be happy at the decision, I wrote an equally lengthy and detailed email in response, explaining exactly why we could not oblige. I fully expected a long-winded response which would be at best pleading, at worst belligerent and demanding, and go into considerable argument explaining exactly why every single alcoholic calling the LawCare helpline should be given details of one particular treatment centre. But I had the good fortune that he responded using his Blackberry, and wrote simply “OK”.

Looking back through my email I realise that there are several where the responses have been short and to the point - “Yes”, “No”, “Thanks” and “August” - and they were all sent using a Blackberry or similar device. I rather like such decisive brevity, and I can’t help but think how much easier it must have been for the lawyers in question just to dash off a quick reply from the back of a taxi than to spend valuable office time composing a long email which would, ultimately, say the same thing.

Perhaps I need to add a codicil to my article decrying the use of Blackberries when on holiday. I recognise that they can save time and streamline the working day, and anything which helps lawyers work more efficiently and free up time is valuable. But for goodness’ sake, remember that it has an “off” switch.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Taking a Gamble

I can smugly say that I don't gamble. Well, not much. I have bought a raffle ticket as part of the entry requirement to a school fete on occasion, and once I won a bottle of champagne which I then generously donated back to the school, since I don’t drink alcohol. I'd like to think that they re-raffled it, but I suspect that there was, in fact, some unnatural merriment in the staff room on the last day of term.

My other foray into gambling came in the latter part of last year. The jackpot to the Euro Lottery was up to £92 million and finding myself in the Post Office with a pound in my pocket, I decided to invest in the right to dream for a day, and I bought a ticket.In my 24 hours of planning exactly how to spend such a huge sum, I discovered some interesting truths about myself. For example:
  • However rich I was, there is no way I would ever have any plastic surgery.
  • Similarly, I would never send my children to private schools. Not because I think they are elitist and out-of-touch with the real world (much) but because my children are happy and doing very well at the schools they attend now, and those schools are within easy walking distance.
  • I am nicer than I thought - the plans which most excited me were those involving anonymously paying off mortgages or giving large cash gifts to friends and deserving causes.
  • However much money I had, I would never buy a brand new car. Probably a car that's one or two years old (as opposed to the twelve-year-old car I just scrapped), but never something straight from the production line. I just couldn't face seeing it depreciate by half its value as I drove it off the forecourt.
  • There are no houses currently for sale in my area - even with asking prices of over £1 million - which I like well enough to tempt me to leave the home I currently live in.
What I really learned about myself, then, is that I don't actually want or need £92 million. I think discovering that was well worth £1. The punchline to this is that I won. I got four numbers out of the six, and won £6.10. So despite a considerable return on my investment for my foray into gambling, I shan't be doing that again. Hubby Dearest (who is an accountant, and thus genius) says that the National Lottery is "a tax on people who are bad at maths". Anyway, I promise faithfully never to gamble again (unless it's the only way to get into the fete), however much I find myself longing to pay off your mortgage.

Apparently, gambling is on the increase due to the recession. Online gambling is one of the few growth industries at the moment, and it seems that many people, finding that their money is earning little interest, are deciding to see whether they can generate income by gambling with it instead. My gamble might have resulted in a 400% profit, but remember that’s the exception. Last year I updated LawCare’s Gambling Information Pack, and it was frightening to see how addictive gambling can be, and what terrible positions people often find themselves in. If you are struggling with this problem, LawCare is here to help.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Pride comes before a Fall

I cancelled the piano tuner. It may not sound like much, but it was almost traumatic. He comes every six months to tune our ancient piano, and he charges £40 for doing so. But with the recession even reaching his usual workplaces of Russia and Azerbaijan, my self-employed auditor husband hadn’t had any work since November, so we are having to tighten our belts. That means luxuries like piano tuning have to go.

Actually I’m tone deaf and wouldn’t know whether or not the piano is in tune. In fact, for all I know, the piano tuner could have been scamming me for years and laughing quietly to himself when I declared, “That sounds so much better!” and handed over the cash equivalent of half our weekly food budget. But even so, it was very difficult for me to phone him up and ask him not to come next month, as scheduled, because we couldn’t afford to pay for it. Whilst it’s easier to admit to the necessity of such cutbacks when everyone is in the same boat, it is never easy to tell others that things are difficult. Especially when those people also need to come up with cash for the weekly food budget. I was quite pleased to have to deliver the message to the answering machine rather than the man in person. And if he has been scamming me for years, it serves him right.

C.S. Lewis once said: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” In other words, the only reason it was difficult for me to tell the piano tuner’s answering machine that I couldn’t afford to pay him his fee was because I somehow considered it important to be seen by him as someone who had plenty of money to splash around on luxuries like a tuneful piano. And actually, that is about the crux of it.

We are faced daily with similar problems on the LawCare helpline. We recently had a case where a solicitor had run his own conveyancing and probate practice for over twenty years. For most of that time it had been extremely successful and profitable, but now, despite all the economies he had made – moving the firm into his home and making his assistant redundant – it was clear to him that he could not continue. He was faced with having to go, cap in hand, to some of the larger firms in the area and seek employment with them in order to pay his mortgage and run-off insurance. In difficult times we have to do difficult things. The fa├žade of the high-flying wealthy lawyer may have to come down, and some of us may have to swallow our pride and admit that we are struggling. LawCare is here to support you as you make those difficult decisions and to remind you that, even though you may have to let go of your pride, you don’t need to let go of your self-respect, or of hope for the future.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Friday, 3 April 2009

The Bright Side of the Recession

I’m really fed up with hearing about this recession. If it’s not doom and gloom on the radio, or knowing that there’s no point in trying to sell my house, it’s seeing some of my favourite shops close down. I had a very nice MFI kitchen installed a couple of homes ago, Whittards did the most wonderful hot chocolate varieties, and one of my earliest memories is my mother getting Wedgwood for her collection each Christmas.

There is evidence of worrying effects of the credit crunch on the LawCare helpline too. In the first six months of 2008 – before the credit crunch started to bite – only 7% of calls were about matters such as redundancy, firms struggling, or fully qualified solicitors unable to find work. The current figure is 24%. For a charity which helps primarily with stress, depression and addiction, it’s quite something when one in every four calls is from a lawyer facing problems because of the economic downturn. How many more didn’t call the helpline because they imagined that their employment related issue was outside our remit? (Let me state here, if it’s causing you stress, then we’re here to help!)

Anyway, I think it’s high time we looked at the brighter side of the current financial situation. Yes, we are all facing problems, but there are upsides to it all.
  • Things are getting cheaper. Shops and supermarkets are having to cut prices, and there are some excellent bargains to be had. Even petrol is getting cheaper, and electricity and gas are predicted to follow.
  • Your mortgage is also much cheaper than it was this time last year. I know ours is, and I apparently one lucky couple have seen their repayments drop from £1,500 per month to 1p.
  • Many of us are learning the lesson our grandparents tried to teach us – that you can’t always have what you want. If you don’t have the cash for it, you can’t have it. The credit bubble has burst and we are learning to be grateful and satisfied with what we have. After all, what’s the point of trying to keep up with the Joneses, if the Joneses are only one late-payment away from the bailiffs arriving?
  • First time buyers can finally afford to buy a home of their own. I live in the South East, and recently saw a habitable flat advertised in my local paper for £50,000. OK, so it was in a grotty part of town, but it could be the first rung on the property ladder for some young couple.
  • Businesses are having to be more creative, competitive and consumer-driven in order to survive. More niche markets are being catered for, and both small firms and large corporations are learning not to take their clients and customers for granted.
  • Lots of people had an extra-long Christmas and New Year break, so extra time to spend with their friends and loved ones. In the car industry, some were away from work (on full pay) for over a month.
  • With the poor value of the pound, more of us will be holidaying the UK, giving a boost to our tourist industry and helping us to better appreciate this beautiful land of ours and all that it has to offer.
  • Banks are no longer throwing money at all and sundry without regard to whether they can, or will, pay it back. And we’re no longer being bombarded by junk mail urging us to take out loans or credit cards.

If your job is relatively secure, and you don’t desperately need to sell your house for any reason, then the recession needn't affect you too badly. Sit tight, keep paying the mortgage, and ride it out. And if this doesn’t apply to you, remember that LawCare is always available to provide support and advice.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Safety in Numbers

Democracy works! I know, I was surprised too, and quite thrilled to have made that discovery last year. Here’s how it happened:

Recycling services in our area were really quite poor. The council collected paper, cardboard, glass and green waste, but most of us could never remember what was being collected which week, and what colour box or bag it was supposed to be in. And they didn’t collect cans and plastic bottles. Being a responsible sort of soul, each time I visited friends in the next borough (where they do have collection facilities for such items) I took along my empties. I was extremely popular, as you might imagine, arriving with three noisy children and four bin bags full of mouldy tins and festering milk bottles, then eating all the cheesecake and going home leaving the smelly rubbish, and occasionally a child or two, behind.

But last May I actually took the time to read through the “Vote for Me” leaflets which came through my door from potential local counsellors. You know the type – community minded individuals who have served on every local PTA, planted 50 trees, scrubbed graffiti off the village hall and raised £500,000 for the local hospital before lunch. One of them was promising that, if elected, she would improve recycling collections. So I voted for her. So did everyone else, it seems, because she won. And so now I can proudly put out my pink sack containing paper, cardboard, glass, cans and plastics, all mixed up together, safe in the knowledge that a gleaming yellow truck will come and take it all away to be recycled.

What this has taught me (and I know you knew this already) is that if enough people want something, and are capable of saying so, then it has a very good chance of happening. If you are fed up with your firm expecting all staff to stay at work beyond their contracted hours, or a particular partner is making everyone’s life miserable, or you just want a “dress down Friday”, then speak to colleagues and see whether you can’t, all together, make a difference. I did.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

I'm not a Lawyer

I could never be a lawyer. Whilst, like many people, I love watching a good courtroom drama (“You can’t handle the truth!”) I am well aware that the life of a solicitor, and even that of a barrister, contains very few of these dramatic moments, and quite a lot of hard work and small print. I am happiest when creating, from eye-catching advertisements to articles, and I also have a bizarre penchant for stationery catalogues, so there is actually no career on the planet more suitable for me than that of LawCare’s administrator. Which, by happy coincidence, happens to be what I am.

According to several studies, those who choose a career in law are most often Type A personalities. They are driven, competitive, highly motivated, love a challenge, and read newspapers to keep up with the news, rather than for the cartoons and gossip columns which are my Type B pages of choice.

Once qualified, they strive to make partner, or bill more hours than anyone else in the firm, or make more money than their friends. They get a real buzz from the work they do, and the more complex, convoluted and critical it is, the better. I find it particularly tragic, then, that the LawCare helpline has recently been inundated with lawyers fearing that they may be made redundant, or who have already lost the career they cherished, or who have been searching for a job for several months with no success. At present these account for one in every four calls received at LawCare.

I could never be a lawyer, but I do feel for those who badly want to be lawyers but can’t any longer.

Monday, 30 March 2009

The Beautiful City

The lack of a blog entry for the last few days is because on Wednesday I travelled to London to attend two meetings, and on Thursday and Friday I was too busy catching up with the emails and messages from Wednesday. Still, it was nice to get out of the office for a day.

If you work in London every day you may not have noticed recently that it is a stunning city. The first of the meetings I attended was in a glorious old building in Westminster, inside which was a modern law firm. Getting there involved me walking past the Houses of Parliament. Whatever your opinion of what goes on inside it, the building itself is beautiful. I walked past Westminster Abbey, which was also breathtaking. It was almost strange to see so many busses, taxis, cars and people plodding blithely past as though there was nothing to stop and stare in wonder at. Happily, of course, there were also plenty of tourists stopping and staring. I’ve lived in the South East for many years, and been to London many times, but luckily I’m not yet at the stage where all the amazing ancient architecture is just some blargh background to my life.

I was reminded on the way home that wonderful historic structures are not confined to London. Walking back from Rayleigh Station I passed “The Round House” which is indeed circular and is dated “1615”. And last weekend we drove through the Suffolk village of Somerleyton which seemed to consist of a handful of beautiful whitewashed thatched cottages set around a village green, and a large manor house in extensive gardens.

One thing which struck me in London as being different from, say, America, is that our historic buildings are still in use. The Houses of Parliament are the seat of government, religious worship still takes place in Westminster Abbey, The Round House had a Vauxhall Corsa parked outside and milk bottles on the doorstep, so evidently it still lived in, and Somerleyton has a thatched primary school. There has been a lot of fuss recently about the demolition of a village to make way for Heathrow’s eighteenth runway (or whatever, I can’t keep up). The village apparently includes a sixteenth-century pub. Can you imagine a sixteenth-century pub in America being razed to make way for an airport? But because sixteenth-century pubs are ten a penny here it seems that losing one doesn’t matter.

We take our history and gorgeous architecture very much for granted here, and we shouldn’t. Britain is a very beautiful country and we need occasionally to stop and appreciate it. So if you work in the City, take a moment today to look around and reflect on the astonishing beauty that surrounds you, and the history in those walls. It might help put your ever-expanding to-do list into perspective.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

What a Waste - Giving Up Gracefully

I have already mentioned that I have a neat little sideline writing novels. I have written about eight of them, three of which have even been published. Writing a novel takes a very long time, a lot of effort, frustration and determination, but at least four of the manuscripts on which I toiled, over which I shed tears and through which I tried to express part of myself, will never been seen in print. I am resigned to viewing them as practice pieces on which I honed my skills and learned my art.

Two days ago I added another to my “Archive” folder. My latest effort, tentatively titled Kept in Trust, was gradually being reworked into my next submission. However, having spent four months trying to rework it into something viable, I have come to the conclusion that it is dull, predictable, and beyond redemption, and I’ve given up on it. I don’t like it, and I’m the author, so why should I expect the public to buy it? If a writer’s novels are indeed our precious children then I have just committed the cardinal sin of abandoning this one on the steps of the orphanage because, quite frankly, I don't feel I can help it reach its potential and give it the love, time and dedication it deserves. I have spent years working on this manuscript, usually labouring late at night after the children have gone to bed when all sane people are watching Desperate Housewives with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s. It was all in vain. But part of being a writer, I think, is knowing what isn't good and being prepared to let it go, however much you have sweated over it.It’s not easy to admit that something wasn’t worth the effort you put into it. Something we hear often at LawCare is “I spent years qualifying as a solicitor, and I mustn’t waste that time, effort and money, however much I find I hate my job.” There are two points to consider here:
Time spent in education, or gaining experience, is never wasted.
It’s better to give up and move on than waste any more time being unhappy.

I have now started working on a new novel which I am excited about, and which is stretching my abilities and inspiring me as I write it. Sometimes, giving up on a lost cause is the right thing to do.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Barristers Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Monday, 23 March 2009

Autumn Attitude

Today is Hubby Dearest’s 40th Birthday. I celebrated – if that’s the right word – this milestone six months ago, and it’s somewhat depressing to know that when my novel tops the bestseller lists, no one is going to say “And she’s so young!” as I had once dreamed.

I commented to my husband at the time that I felt I was now at the Autumn of my life. Spring is 0-20, the years of gambolling lambs, budding beauty and moments of tentative brightness. Summer is from 20-40, when the flowers are in full glorious bloom, life abounds, and the sunshine is perpetual and confident. (Please remember that this is a metaphor and not in any way based on the reality of the British Summer.)

Autumn is those years from 40-60 when things become colder, plans have to be abandoned because of rain, and inexorable night draws ever nearer. As for Winter – well, I’ll expound on that particular misery twenty years from now.

My husband responded to these words by pointing to his full head of hair and saying “Do I look as though the leaves are falling off?” I resisted the urge to point out that they were definitely changing colour.

There are benefits to age, however. For most people (although not me) it means that the children are reaching independence, and so you (still not me) have time to do all those fun things you always wanted to. Your legal career is probably well established, and with it your financial security, enabling you to afford to do all them. And it’s still only Autumn, so you may even have the health and energy to do them. If you’ve spent your best Summer years focusing on your career, or your family, or both, perhaps a big birthday might be what you need to realise that time is moving on, and it may be time for you to congratulate yourself on your achievements and start concentrating on doing things for yourself for a change. After all, I may be old now, but I’m still worth it.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Seeing a Solicitor

For reasons I have explained here before, I am the only member of LawCare’s team who is not a qualified lawyer. Even before I was subjected to the problems of members of the legal profession on a daily basis I was never interested in being a lawyer. I don’t have the personality for it. But that’s OK, because luckily thousands of other great people do.

For years, when telling people that I help lawyers for a living, I have been met with a raised eyebrow which implies “Why bother? Who cares about lawyers?” Lawyers seem to rank just above Estate Agents, Insurance Salesmen and Drug Dealers in the public popularity polls. But I think lawyers are wonderful. Yes, read it again, I really did say that.

Why do I think that? Because I have had occasion to consult one. The first time – when I bought my first house – I barely remember. The second time was in 2004 when I divorced my first husband, sold the marital home, divvied up the proceeds and bought another 300 miles away (from him). The solicitor who kept me appraised of progress every step of the way and reassured me through the whole traumatic experience was a lovely young lady, five years qualified, and her bill came to just a shade over £500. As I said to my newly-ex husband on receiving it, “If I’d known it was going to be this cheap I’d have divorced you years ago.”

Two weeks ago I met with another solicitor to discuss transferring property assets into a company. Again I had picked the firm at random from the Yellow Pages, but once again I received superb service from an extremely knowledgeable partner whose expertise in such matters enabled my shiny new husband and I to save £27,000 by spending just £300 on his fee.

Have I been extraordinarily lucky in finding two such excellent solicitors? I don’t think so. I think the majority of lawyers work hard at what they do and take pride in giving good service. Maybe the problem is that, almost by definition, their work involves dealing with people at vulnerable and difficult times, and such people are not always the most rational or understanding. Maybe there is a small minority who are lazy, incompetent, careless or swindling and they give the rest of the profession a bad name. That’s a real pity. Because my experience is that lawyers are wonderful. And although I never wanted to be one, I salute those of you who are. You do important work, and, for the most part, you do it extremely well.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Fun with Depression

I’ve just had a great deal of fun researching and writing an article on treatment for depression. You’d think it would be a depressing subject – finding out exactly why taking antidepressants makes people more susceptible to suicide, for example – but actually it was fascinating. (For the record: two of the main symptoms of clinical depression are lack of motivation and desperate black mood. So severely depressed people consider suicide but don’t actually have the energy to do it. Antidepressants tend to alleviate the apathy a few weeks before they raise the mood, and it’s during that time that some patients find that they do have the oomph required to kill themselves.)

I’m an English graduate, and writing is my thing. I love it in any form, from writing articles on depressing subjects, to writing this blog. I even get a kick out of compiling my shopping list. The day I spent writing the article left me wondering why I get paid for doing my job, rather than having to pay LawCare for the privilege. I learned that something that is very beneficial in treating depression, is to spend time doing things you enjoy – writing articles, in my case, apparently, but I might also list eating sushi, watching science fiction and having very hot bubble baths until I look like a steaming prune.

Of course, it might have made more sense had the article said “doing things you used to enjoy, before depression stopped you enjoying anything.” Depression robs people of their passion and zeal too. We frequently hear helpline callers say that they used to love the challenge and stimulation of working in the law, but now they find it pointless and no longer care. It’s not always changes in the profession or their working environment which are to blame – sometimes the extreme stress they have been under has led to symptoms of depression and their dream career no longer excites them.

Depression is a distressing illness which affects a quarter of us at some point in our lives. I’ve been lucky enough never to have experienced it, and I hope there will never come a time for me when researching and writing an article, whatever the subject, ceases to bring me pleasure.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

A Sobering Thought

"Top doctors" have been busy over the last couple of weeks. Last week one of them suggested introducing a tax on chocolate, since it is unhealthy. Then this week another suggested that alcohol should cost a minimum of 50p per unit. What a good idea, I thought (which was the opposite reaction to hearing of the suggested tax on chocolate, but I'm ready to wallop anyone who points out the hypocrisy of my opinion). Not only would it cut the levels of binge drinking, when teenagers discovered that their two-litre bottle of Diamond White now costs £11, but they might actually do the maths and figure out that it must then contain 22 units of alcohol, and it probably isn't the best idea to drink the whole thing in one go. (Although if they are drinking Diamond White in the park, they probably aren't the type to be capable of doing the maths.)

I'm not one to get involved in politics much, but several years ago my alcoholic husband (now ex) and I went for a meal in a pub and each ordered a drink. His pint of beer was actually cheaper than my pint of Coke. I was so infuriated by this that I wrote to my MP explaining that pubs which charge that same or more for soft drinks than for alcoholic ones are actually encouraging drunkenness. My suggestion was that it be made mandatory for pubs to charge considerably less for non-alcoholic drinks than they did for alcoholic ones.

The MP was very good, bless him, and he contacted various departments including the DTI, but the reply was that it would not be suggested, basically because "we do not have price-fixing in this country." So I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that the idea to charge 50p per unit of alcohol was so firmly rejected.

All the same, it is worth knowing how many units of alcohol are in your drink, even if it's not reflected in the price. I recently revised LawCare's alcohol information pack and website pages, and checked the current safe levels of alcohol as recommended by the government. It is now 14 units for women, and 21 for men, spread throughout the week. More than this is considered harmful, and regularly drinking more than double this amount is classed as hazardous. (I would like to point out that these are limits, not targets, and that there is no such thing as drinking too little.)

I was troubled, then, by a conversation I had with an ordinary lawyer – not a helpline caller – who commented that many lawyers he knew were under great stress, and were in the habit of drinking a bottle or two of wine in the evening to unwind. A bottle of wine, I discovered, contains nine units. That means that a lawyer drinking just one bottle in front of the TV each evening is consuming three times the recommended amount over the course of a week. And if that lawyer happens to be female, it’s four and a half times the safe level.

How many bottles of wine have you opened this week?

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Monday, 16 March 2009

My Name is Anna and I'm an Alcoholic

When I first joined LawCare, I did a test to find out whether I was an alcoholic. We had several variations of these in various heaps of paper round the office, and I thought it would be an interesting exercise. And it was. According to the results of the questionnaire, I can stand up in a forlorn group of people in a dingy church hall somewhere and declare “My name is Anna, and I’m an alcoholic.”

It’s quite a challenge, being able to do that. Especially when I haven’t had an alcoholic drink in about ten years. (Apart from one accidental occasion at a function where someone had ruined what I took to be perfectly good orange juice by adding champagne to it. Bleaugh!) Before that I had the occasional rum and coke (Essex girl, you understand) and sometimes a Baileys or an Irish coffee after a good curry. All told, my intake was probably two units a week. And ten years ago I gave up alcohol altogether for religious, moral and professional reasons. So why did this test show me to be an alcoholic?

The first question was “Do other people consider the amount of alcohol you drink to be normal?” Naturally I answered No. Most people think it is decidedly abnormal not to drink any alcohol at all. Another question was “Have you ever attended a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous?” When I first began working with alcoholics I attended an open meeting for the purposes of better understanding the programme. My “Yes” to that question, added to the “No” to the first question, netted me sufficient points to score in the range which indicated I had a drink problem.

But I’m not the only person who hasn’t touched a drop in years, and yet can still declare “My name is ____, and I’m an alcoholic.” Many people who have had an alcohol problem in the past but have overcome it will still refer to themselves as alcoholic. They might have been sober for 30 years, but they will still attend the occasional AA meeting and make that statement. Neither will they qualify it by saying that they have “recovered”. Instead, they “are recovering.” These people recognise that alcoholism, like diabetes, is lifelong and incurable and their “insulin” is never to drink alcohol again.

At LawCare we’ve mostly given up trying to define who is and isn’t alcoholic by means of complex questionnaires. Instead we prefer to speak of people who have “a drink problem” and that’s quite easy to define. If drinking is causing problems for you, and yet you continue to drink alcohol, you have a drink problem. Or, if you have a problem controlling your drinking, you have a drink problem. And if you have a drink problem, the first thing you need to do is to admit it. Try it now. “My name is _____ and I’m an alcoholic”. And try it on the phone to LawCare.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Barristers Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Thursday, 12 March 2009

The Value of Volunteers

I may have mentioned before that LawCare is a very small team. Hilary is our Chief Executive, and she is the only full-time member of staff. Ann, Trish and Mary manage the helplines between them, and for five hours a day I do all the admin. - sending out information, putting together statistics, keeping the website up to date, and writing blogs.

As I write this it is mid-March and we have just opened our 115th case file for this year. Think about that for a moment. That’s over a hundred lawyers who, in just the last three months, have felt so distressed and despairing that they have called our helpline and asked us to support them. Many of them are suffering from clinical depression, several have been through some really tough and traumatic experiences. A fair few are drinking so much that they are starting to realise that they are alcoholic – and in many cases their wives, friends or colleagues have already called us, because they realised the individual was an alcoholic several months ago. In addition we have received several calls from ongoing cases from last year.

Ann, Trish and Mary each work 2½ days a week. If you’re sharp, you’ll be wondering how they manage to arrange counselling, treatment, and necessary support for all these people with so little time. And how, indeed, do they find the time to call all these people back week after week to check their progress, offer encouragement, look for warning signs and see what other support is needed?

The answer is that they are aided by 140 wonderful volunteers; lawyers across the UK and Ireland who have been through difficult times themselves, or who have a particular desire to help others, and willingly offer to help those who call us. The volunteers offer one-to-one support, friendship, and often the benefit of their experience. They also help me to keep case files up to date, and it is always good to have a report from a volunteer in which they detail the help they have given the person, and tell us that everything is now fine and that person has made a complete recovery or at least is enjoying a period of stability.

Whilst all we require of a volunteer is that they make regular contact with the person, several have gone the extra mile:

  • I heard recently from a volunteer supporting a particularly vulnerable solicitor. She phones her every morning to help her find the strength she needs to go through the day. She has been doing this for over a year, but is enjoying seeing the progress made.
  • We had one case where a volunteer, while talking to the incapacitated lawyer he was supporting, noticed a throwaway comment that there was no food in the cupboards. The volunteer paid for an online grocery delivery to be made to that person the next day.
  • One volunteer who was supporting an alcoholic lawyer drove him to the treatment centre, giving up his weekend to drive from London to Scarborough, just to be certain that he arrived safely.

Our volunteers are amazing, and they make all the difference. We couldn’t do it without them. Could you be a LawCare volunteer? Call 01268 771333 for more information, or go to www.lawcare.org.uk/volunteers.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Keeping the Credit Crunch out of the Kitchen

I’m feeling smug again. Well, perhaps smug is too strong a word. With the recession officially upon us, I’ve been revising LawCare’s information pack about debt and financial problems, just to make sure it’s as good as it can be now that it’s going to be in more demand than usual. As I look over some of our case files and research the subject with agencies like National Debtline (0808 808 4000) it’s terrifying to see the desperate state some people end up in, often through no fault of their own. It leaves me feeling very relieved to have no debt at all (that’s right, not a penny). In fact, I can’t help thinking “there but for the grace of God go I.”

The funny thing is, in my case my escape from debt is largely due to the grace of God. I converted about fifteen years ago to a church whose leaders repeatedly insisted that we should avoid debt, and thus I have dutifully done so ever since. Our credit card (which we use only because of the perks which come with it) is paid off in full by direct debit each month. My car is an N-reg which I bought fourth-hand in cash. Most of our furniture was left to us by my grandmother when she died in 1991 and thus our sofa is older than my mother. As for my kitchen … my kitchen was built in the early eighties by the man who owned the house before us. It is, let’s say, a little dated. Not only that, but three cupboard doors are missing, and there are only two drawers left, one of which covers the Pyrex in the cupboard below it with little flakes of plastic from the runners each time we wrench it open.

But we have scrimped and saved for four years, and gone to Homebase (never again!) with real cash money, and bought a new kitchen. As I write this, our builder (who doesn't offer credit terms) is installing it. No "Buy now - Pay later" deals for us.

We regularly get door-to-door salesmen, attracted by the apparently lamentable state of our driveway or guttering. We tell them we’re saving up to the get the work done, and they cheerfully tell us that they can offer us credit. It’s extremely useful to be able to respond “Debt is against my religion.”

Most people, however, don’t have that restriction. If they want a new sofa (i.e., one that isn't 65 years old) and the shop offers interest free credit and nothing to pay for a year, they will take it. If they need a new kitchen, they will go ahead and buy it on credit. Advertisements tell them again and again that they need the latest games console, that the prices on these exotic holidays have been greatly reduced and they really must have one, or that they can spend up to £2,000 today in the catalogue. Everyone else seems to have these things, and they don’t see why they shouldn’t. They don't seem to realise that buying on the "Never-never" actually means paying on the "Always-always".

It’s tragic when it all falls apart, and I hope our “new improved” and FREE debt information pack will help lawyers who have innocently fallen victim to the credit trap. I had to put up with a yellow plywood kitchen for four years while we saved up for the new one, but rather that than still be despairing of paying for a custom built designer kitchen long after the novelty has worn off.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Part of the Furniture

I have now been working for LawCare for over eleven years. That’s longer than my desk, since the original LawCare desk fell apart last week, so I now have a nice new one. Whilst no one can expect a job for life in the current economic climate, I am hopeful that I will be with LawCare as long as LawCare exists. I can't think of anything I would rather do - unless I can figure out a way of getting paid for being a housewife and mother.

Before I elaborate on what it means to be part of the furniture, perhaps I should go back and explain how I came to take this job. Barry Pritchard, a North Wales lawyer who also happened to be a long-term recovering alcoholic, got the job as LawCare’s first Co-ordinator in 1997, and was given an old Law Society computer which he set up in the corner of his kitchen on the now-deceased desk. During that first year he manned the telephone 24 hours a day – remember that mobile phone technology was in its infancy then – and received sixty calls from alcoholic solicitors. With very few volunteers, Barry mentored each person himself, researching, writing and sending them information and trying to arrange for them to receive the appropriate treatment.

After a year he realised he needed help, and advertised for a secretary. At the time I had been working for an alcoholic lawyer for several weeks having given up a good job as an estate agent in what I thought would be a step up. Seeing the letters arriving from Leamington Spa (where the Law Society’s disciplinary arm is based) and knowing that my Sole Practitioner boss was in the pub more often than he was in the office, I insisted on being paid in cash. I also found myself at the Job Centre during my lunch break.

I was invited for interview, and arrived at Barry’s beautiful old renovated cottage to be greeted by three very lively and large spaniels. I am allergic to dogs, but with the job of my dreams riding on this interview I made a big fuss of them all and put the sneezing down to a cold.

Starting a new job is always daunting. For several weeks you’re never quite certain of
what you’re doing, and I made my fair share of mistakes, including accidentally deleting the entire volunteers database. Luckily I had a print-out, so unbeknown to Barry I typed the whole thing back in again. We had about 30 volunteers then – we now have 150. (But we always need more! Call me if you are a lawyer and can help!)

Like many, my job was a precarious balancing act between doing tasks I knew I was supposed to do – typing up case notes – and taking some initiative to develop my role. Or, as others might have called it, getting too big for my boots. I was lucky – Barry was very amenable to suggestions and ideas, and so now, eleven years later, I have a job that I pretty much designed myself, and could do standing on my head with my eyes closed.

I am aware that I am very, very lucky. Many people within the legal profession are stuck in stressful jobs, bullying environments and offices where their ideas and input are not welcome. And many of them wonder about moving on, but doubt their ability to find anything suitable, or are too afraid of those first uncertain weeks of settling in. Among helpline callers there seems to be a “better the devil you know” ethos, whereby however bad things are, the big wide unknown world of the jobs market is even worse. One caller, who was being abysmally treated by her firm, and had been for several years, had never even considered the option of leaving because she’d been there ever since she qualified fifteen years ago, and … well … leave? After years of criticism, bullying and being expected to put in twelve-hour days her self-esteem was as low as her salary.

My advice if you find yourself in a similar situation: just do it. Get your CV up to date, research the market, and stroke the dogs. You too might end up with the job of your dreams.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Monday, 9 March 2009

You're not too Super to get Addicted

I just watched the Will Smith film “Hancock”, just released on DVD. At the opening of the film, John Hancock is a down-and-out alcoholic. We first see him lying dirty and unshaven on a park bench surrounded by empty bottles. When he is woken up and alerted to some nefarious goings-on into which he really ought to intervene, he first needs to take a large swig from the bottle he had clasped in his hand as he slept. He then flies off, destroying the park bench in the process. One of the four questions in the CAGE test used to determine whether someone has an alcohol problem is whether they drink early in the morning, so Hancock was certainly an alcoholic by that definition.

What is an alcoholic? Dylan Thomas said, “An alcoholic is a man you don’t like who drinks as much as you do.” Many people calling LawCare’s helpline perceive an alcoholic to be someone wearing a grubby coat who lives in a doorway and swigs from a bottle of supermarket cider all day. Others are terrified that the term might apply to them, and come up with all sorts of reasons why it doesn’t, or give up alcohol for a week or so just to prove that they are not alcoholic. They don’t want to believe that addiction is something that can happen to them. But the fact is that anyone can be an alcoholic. Your senior partner. Your best friend. Your mother. You. You may be a high-flying successful lawyer, but Hancock demonstrates that even super heroes can be alcoholics, and you can’t get much more high flying than that.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Friday, 6 March 2009

My Other Job

I’ve a confession to make – I’m moonlighting. Not content with working 25 hours a week for LawCare, I have been putting in some hours late at night on my second career as a writer. My third novel was published last November, my fourth is currently being evaluated by my publishers, and I am halfway through writing my fifth. I also recently had contributions published in two anthologies.

Much as I love working for LawCare (and you know that I do, because I have said as much here – try to keep up) I have wanted to be an “authoress” ever since my mother had told me that’s what lady writers are called. My life’s ambition was to get a novel published, and in 2000 I did. (This left me in need of a new life’s ambition, and I selected “Finish painting the bedroom”. As yet I have not achieved this.)

A recent article in the Law Society Gazette by fellow author Neil Rose so accurately described the dififculties faced by would-be authors that I felt moved to write a letter to the editor of the Gazette to say "Hear, hear". Essentially, the problem is that one is never enough, and it is just as difficult to get that fourth novel accepted as it is the first. I thought writing one book would be enough, but then I found I yearned to write another. So I did. And then other ideas for novels came along, so I wrote those too. I had always assumed that if you have had one book published, or even two, as I had, then you could pretty much write anything and “they” would publish it. Not so – my next three efforts were all rejected, leaving me feeling a bit of a fraud as a writer. My first two books are out of print, but if you scour EBay and Amazon for long enough you might find one.

The article also very succinctly mentioned a further isuse. If, like me, getting a novel published has been your life's ambition for a long time, there is an inevitable disappointment when you discover that actually it isn't "magical and life changing" (to quote the article). "It very quickly just becomes something you did." I do not command adulation in the streets, and have come to terms with the knowledge that while I am an "authoress", my real job is being LawCare's administrator. Whilst I do get some royalties from my writing, it's never going to be enough to pay the mortgage.

I still want to be an Authoress when I grow up, but in the meantime I am perfectly content helping lawyers to find their dream careers and realise all their ambitions.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Barristers Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

The Right Reply

How often has someone said something, and several minutes (or even months) after the event, you’ve thought of the perfect retort, a brilliant come-back which would not only dramatically make your point and utterly conclude the debate, but have everyone in earshot clutching their bellies, wiping away tears of hysterical laughter and marvelling at your wit?

Once – only once – in my life I have managed to say that perfect retort at exactly the time it was needed. It occurred soon after my first husband and I divorced and he was making plans to marry his long-term mistress. He wanted the children (8 and 4) to be bridesmaids, but, understandably, didn’t want me at the wedding and I didn’t want to be far from the girls, so we devised a careful plan which involved me dressing them in their beautiful gowns and dropping them off at the venue, then waiting in the car park with a book for three hours. He evidently felt a bit guilty at this arrangement because he asked me whether I was upset that he hadn’t invited me to his wedding.

“No dear,” I replied, cool as a cucumber, “I wish I hadn’t gone to your last one.”

LawCare’s Stress and Depression pack contains a page of advice on saying exactly the right thing at the right time, but in this case, that thing is one word – “No.” It seems to be the hardest thing of all to say, because many helpline callers tell us in despair that they are overloaded with work, and yet their supervisor/manager/Senior Partner keeps asking them to do more and more things. And then at home they get asked to be on the PTA, and to go to a Yoga class with a friend, and look after a relative’s pets while they are on holiday. Naturally, they become very stressed trying to do everything and be everything to everyone when really they just don’t have the time or the energy.

The antidote is that simple word “No.” Our information pack lists several creative ways to dress up that “No” to make it easier both to say and to hear. My favourite, which I have been known to use myself, is “I already have this, this and this to do. What task would you like me to drop in order to do this new task?” I also really like “I appreciate your confidence in me. I wouldn’t want to take this on knowing my other tasks and responsibilities right now would prohibit me from doing an excellent job.”

The advice (which was written for our pack by Coach Dianna Keel – thanks Dianna) also makes a very good point. Sometimes there is no better answer than just a simple No. It strengthens your boundaries, and people start to realise that actually you’re not a do-anything dogsbody. They’ll have more respect for you, and next time they’ll think twice before asking. As the Grange Hill cast told us in 1986, “Just Say No”.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Barristers Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Failte go hEireann

When LawCare started in 1997, it was the result of a working party formed by assorted members of the Law Society of England and Wales who had realised that some solicitors drank rather a lot, and it would be nice if there was someone who would help them to stop doing so before an intervention (the Law Society compulsorily taking over their practice) became necessary.

Since those early days LawCare has grown and grown beyond anything that could have been imagined in 1997. We still support solicitors with alcohol problems, but now we also support barristers, judges, legal executives, barristers clerks, advocates, staff and families, with all kinds of health problems – three-quarters of our calls relate to stress or depression. We also cover the whole of the British Isles. The Law Society of Scotland was the first organisation outside England and Wales to join LawCare, giving additional funding in return for our helping their members. The Bar Council followed, as did several further groupings, and last January LawCare ventured into foreign territory for the first time, when the Law Societies of Ireland and the Isle of Man joined us.

Every time we take on a new group, region or profession there is new terminology to learn and changes to make, but I have been surprised at how different it has been taking on Ireland to, say, Scotland. It may only be a short ferry ride from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire, but every information pack and volunteer application pack we post costs three times as much. Telephone calls involve a string of about sixteen numbers, and I learned today that all Irish mobile numbers begin 085 or 086. Trainee solicitors serve apprenticeships before their parchment ceremony, and very few addiction treatment centres in Ireland offer detox, or accept private referrals. Then there are the names. I speak fluent Welsh (my children are called Gwenllian, Angharad and Ceridwen – or, as the spellchecker would prefer it, Gremlin, Anthrax and Crewmen) but it seems a million miles from one Celtic language to another when I try to figure out how to address someone called “Caoimhe”.

It’s good to have these new challenges, new opportunities to learn and the chance to broaden our horizons, but one thing I have learned is that lawyers are the same wherever they may be. British or Irish, lawyers struggle with impossible targets, long hours and bullying supervisors, they worry that their work isn’t as good as it could be but hate asking for help, and some have a tendency to drink too much when things become difficult. Whatever areas, professions or countries we expand into, LawCare seems to find that the problems troubling the hardworking professionals of the legal profession are the same.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Monday, 2 March 2009

Moan of the Day

Two things about the day-to-day process of my job drive irritate me. One is the spam in my inbox each morning – offering to enlarge anatomical features I don’t have, warning me that my account with a bank I’ve never heard of has been compromised, and asking to use said bank account to transfer large sums of money in exchange for a small percentage. At present I am getting huge rafts of email returned undeliverable, which is particularly perplexing because I know for a fact I haven’t sent all those emails in the first place.

The second thing that irritates me is salespeople. Particularly advertising salespeople. I can spot them from the first breath by their contrived sociable approach. The conversation, once my identity has been established, invariably goes something like this.
“And how are you this fine day?”
“Fine.”
“Good, good, that’s what I like to hear.”

Someone, somewhere, has told salespeople to be friendly. That someone should be shot. Friendliness with strangers doesn’t come easily to us Brits, it sounds false and it’s extremely annoying when it comes from the fifth person that day to say exactly the same thing.

The caller will then introduce himself, and then say something like “I know you really want to increase business, and what you do there is something we really want to support”.

At this point I love to annoy them and generally say “We don’t want to increase business” (why would we want more lawyers to be stressed or alcoholic?) or, if I’m feeling really cruel, “What is it that we do here?” One I might try someday is “If you really want to support us, why not give us a free advert?”

The funniest are possibly the salespeople from legal journals which are doing a special charity legacies and bequests section. LawCare is a charity, you see, and if we have advertised in the periodical before, their system will flag us up as someone to call about being in the probate special. But picture the scene. Elderly Mrs P. has come to see her solicitor about making a will. After factoring in her family and friends she finds she has a sum remaining to leave to charity. Her solicitor picks up his Charity supplement and invites her to select a worthy cause for her bequest. So, what’s it to be? Humanitarian support for victims of natural disasters? Children with cancer? Abused and abandoned animals? The local hospice? Or overworked solicitors who drink a bit too much?

Obviously I do believe that LawCare is a worthy cause, but we are under no illusions, and we know that any donations we receive are going to come from those LawCare is here to benefit – the lawyers themselves. And obviously we want more of those lawyers to know where they can find the help they need, so we do need to advertise. But please, if you really must try to sell me advertising, don’t pretend to be my best friend, don’t act as if you know about LawCare’s work when you don’t, and just get straight to the bottom line. How much will it cost, and how many lawyers will it reach.

In the time it’s taken me to write this, 24 spam emails have arrived in my inbox – one of them in French. But I’m lucky that my irritations are only minor. We know from our helpline that many people are working in extremely difficult, stressful and intolerable conditions, so perhaps I can put up with a cheery salesperson or three and an unsolicited offer to sell me blue pills.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Relationships make Work Worthwhile

I have now been with LawCare for eleven years, almost since it began. By a curious accident, I’m the only member of LawCare’s staff who was not formerly a lawyer. Prior to joining LawCare I had some pretty dreadful jobs– most of them during the summers when I was a student, admittedly.

When I think back to those weeks spent selling door to door, or serving breakfast in a hotel, or even trying to make sure all the street lights in Cardiff were working, I remember them with a fond smile and can still name the friends I made and think of those as good times because, however menial, degrading, tedious or perplexing the job, I had great people around me who made the hours fly by.

We know from the callers to our helpline that working relationships can make or break a job. I am sure we can all think of firms or jobs we have left where our greatest regret is leaving good friends, knowing that we will never really be able to maintain the relationship we had when we were working together. Several helpline callers, often working in very unpleasant circumstances, have said that they would leave were it not that they don’t want to leave their much-loved colleagues “in the lurch.”

All jobs get difficult at times. However much you enjoy your work, there will be tasks you are putting off, dull days, hours when you are very stressed and perhaps even times when you are thinking of moving on. A firm would do well to foster good working relationships between staff. Occasional social events, allowing colleagues to mix freely to share ideas and help each other with problems, and making sure those in authority are friendly and approachable can improve the working environment and create loyalty to the firm and to each other which ensures employees stay on during these tough periods.

Being a lawyer or working in a legal context may not be as physically demanding as being a door-to-door canvasser or breakfast waitress, but it can still be tough, tedious and perplexing, and it is the working relationships we have with those around us which will keep us at our desks.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The Wonderful World of Work at Home

Whenever I tell people that I work from home, they get extremely envious. Well, first they make sure I don’t simply make cheap trinkets which are never quite good enough, or mail out leaflets about amazing job opportunities mailing out leaflets. Then, once satisfied that I actually have a proper paying job, they get extremely envious. And quite right too. My husband, who works variously in Novosibirsk, Vladivostok and Krasnodar, greets me sarcastically each afternoon when I wander back into the house from my office in the garage with the words “Good commute?”

Yes, working from home is great. Not only does it save LawCare the cost of an office, but it means that I can go to work in my slippers. I’ve not been to work in my pyjamas yet, but give it time. I can eat lunch with my husband, when he’s home, and I don’t have to take days off to wait for deliveries.

This is supposed to be the part where I launch into the negative side of working from home, so that those of you who commute on an overcrowded train to a stuffy office each day, or spend three hours sat in traffic to reach your poky room above a Chinese takeaway, will banish your envy and purse your lips contentedly, happy that you don’t have to put up with the horrors of spending the entire day under your own roof. Unfortunately, I don’t find many of the supposed drawbacks to be a problem.

It can get lonely with no colleagues to talk to, I’m told, but if I feel the need to talk to a colleague I pick up the telephone, and in the meantime I can get on with my work undisturbed by office chatter about holidays and boyfriends.

Then, some people say, there can be the temptation to work when you shouldn’t – to answer the office phone when you're off duty because you can hear it ringing from the kitchen, for example. Personally, I find it more of a problem when I’m in the office and hear the washing machine in the kitchen beeping and find myself tempted to hang out the washing when I shouldn’t, so it cuts both ways. I once logged onto the LawCare server at half-past midnight to find that Trish was also logged on, but my washing never gets left out in the rain.

One small downside is that when the local schools were closed due to snow recently, and a quarter of the UK workforce were unable to get to work, I had no such excuse. But apart from that, I can’t think of any more downsides to working from home. Let me know if you come up with any. And if you come across any of the downsides of working generally, you know where the LawCare helpline is.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Commuting

A friend of mine commutes to London each day. Nothing unusual in that, except that he does it by bike. He cycles three miles uphill to reach the station, catches his train, stowing his foldaway bike safely as he does so, and then cycles across London to get to his desk. He works an eight-hour day and then cycles home again –downhill this time. He does this all year round, in all weathers.

LawCare helpline callers frequently tell us that their commute is a major part of the work stress they face, and I can understand why. during my last trip to London for a LawCare Board meeting I found myself very glad that I don’t have to commute every day. The meeting ended just in time for rush hour, I was squashed in so tightly on the tube that I could barely breathe, and was lucky to get a seat on the train home.

On the other hand, most of the people around me on the 17:25 Liverpool Street to Southend Victoria seemed pretty relaxed. Several were relaxed to the extent of being asleep, others were reading the paper, listening to music or texting friends on their phones. When I dropped the lid of my hand cream and it rolled away under the seats there was even a moment of sociable hilarity as several people dived for it, and it was returned with a warm smile.

I wondered whether the daily hour on the train might not be the only opportunity many of these people get to sit and do nothing. Perhaps it is even a vital opportunity to relax between frantic work time at the office, and a busy evening cooking, cleaning, chasing the children into bed, catching up with the email and going for a late session at the gym.

Whilst part of the stress of commuting might be the time it takes out of an overloaded day, time spent sitting doing nothing is never wasted. Perhaps a commute, however arduous, might be seen as “down time”, time to relax and recharge and, in the process, get from A to B, even if it might feel as though you are cycling uphill in the snow to do so.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Monday, 23 February 2009

Cycling through Adversity

I’m feeling somewhat virtuous this week. Positively holier-than-thou actually. The reason is that my husband is working in Baku for a week. (The geeks among you will recognise Baku as the Star Trek planet where the people never fall ill or get old. Unfortunately the Baku he has gone to is actually the capital of Azerbaijan.) His flight left and returned at such an unearthly hour that I refused to drive him to Heathrow – with the children in the back seat, of course, you try getting a babysitter at 4 a.m. on a Sunday - and with no convenient shuttles, flyers, buses or trains the only solution was for him to take the family car and park it at the airport while he was away. So we are carless. Or car free, as I prefer to say.

I’ve dusted off my bicycle, put the babyseat on the back, and we are cycling everywhere together like a Center Parcs commercial, the wind blowing our hair out behind us and the children laughing as they try to run over squirrels and reflect on their negative carbon footprints. This afternoon we will be cycling to the swimming pool, if I can figure out how to carry four sets of swimsuits and towels in my bicycle basket. On the face of it, a week without a car is a major inconvenience, even a problem. But I’m a born optimist who sees hurdles as challenges to be overcome.

Everyone handles adversity differently, and many people find their challenges so overwhelming that they have entirely lost the ability to see any way out, or any positives in their situation. For them, a week without a car is not an opportunity to get healthy and have a ready-made excuse not to attend meetings, but a disaster. If they even had a bike it would be discovered to have two flat tyres and faulty brakes, and it would rain every time they wanted to ride it somewhere. This is not merely the difference between an optimist and a pessimist; many people have become so stressed or worn down by their situation that they no longer have the ability to “make the best of it”.

One person’s minor inconvenience can, for another, be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I’m welcoming my current challenge, but the support of family, friends and organisations such as LawCare can be so vital for those times when we encounter one challenge too many.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Friday, 20 February 2009

In Denial

Yesterday I mentioned my efforts to lose weight, and how successful they had been. I have, in fact, succeeded in losing weight on numerous occasions. I lost two stone after having my second baby (sponsored, and I raised almost £500 for LawCare’s Welfare Fund), a stone after having my third baby, and half a stone for my wedding. So if I’ve now lost a total of 3½ stone, why do I need to rejoin a slimming club?

I put it down to denial. I lose the weight, and then somehow I believe that all those rules no longer apply, that I can eat cheese, chocolate and crisps to my heart’s content without compromising my newly svelte figure. Our honeymoon to Florida was a typical case in point. My favourite jeans, which had fitted perfectly on the flight out, would no longer do up the day we went home and I was genuinely surprised. To my astonishment, having several trips to an all-you-can-eat buffet and four Krispy Kreme doughnuts each day had caused me to put weight on. Who knew?

Working for LawCare means I get to speak to a lot of alcoholics. Their firm denial of the problem used to amaze me. Lawyers regularly phone our helpline saying that their senior partner, wife or friend had insisted they call about their alcohol problem. What they are expecting to hear is “Only eight pints a night? No, you’re fine, tell your senior partner/wife/friend to stop wasting our time.”

Instead we are not shy about telling them that their pattern of drinking is harmful and might be called alcoholic, that we believe they have a problem which needs to be addressed, and that we would like to suggest ways they might be helped. They are often very surprised, defensive, and usually, in denial. They will offer excuses, in much the same way I do when dieting (“Carrot cake has no calories because it’s a vegetable”) and seem to really believe their ridiculous claims. One caller, for example, claimed that she only drank as much as she did because she had recurring problems with her throat, and alcohol was the only thing that soothed it. And had soothed it to the tune of two bottles of wine a day for the last six years. No, of course she hadn’t seen a doctor about her throat problem. She hadn’t even seen a packet of Strepsils. But she really believed that she needed to drink because of her throat.

Another example of denial came from a man who had recurring night sweats. He had looked up the symptom in a home diagnosis book and discovered that only three problems accounted for it – alcoholism, menopause and tuberculosis. He drank alcohol from noon, when the pub opened, until closing time, but told me, in all seriousness, that his night sweats were due to his undiagnosed TB.

It may seem blindingly obvious to us that these people have a problem, but I can sympathise. I am in denial too. When I finish the children’s leftovers, it somehow “doesn’t count”, and everyone knows that broken biscuits have no calories. Denial is a curious thing. When something is important to us – be it chocolate chip cookies or booze – we will happily distort reality rather than go without it.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

Thursday, 19 February 2009

People Power

Like many women I am struggling to lose weight, and have been for several years. Last week, however, I lost four whole pounds When I stepped on the scales at my Weight Watchers meeting I thought my leader was going to dance a jig around the room, so thrilled was she at my success. She beamed from ear to ear and congratulated me with such warmth that I resolved never to let her down in the coming weeks. My modest weight loss had brought joy into her life – it might even have made her week (it certainly made mine). I wonder whether she gets commission on each pound lost by her members?

As good as the diet plans at slimming clubs are, it’s not rocket science – eat less and exercise more and you will lose weight. What makes these clubs work for me is the sheer terror of having to confess my dietary sins to a kindly and helpful leader at the scales each week. Being accountable to someone gives me just that little extra bit of impetus I need to keep ignoring the hunger pangs.

There is real power in personal, one-to-one support. Whether it’s my Weight Watchers leader, an AA sponsor or a LawCare volunteer, having someone take an interest in your efforts to lose weight or get your life back on track can make a huge difference. In moments of weakness or suffering you can pick up the telephone and hear words of encouragement. Your failures become twice as bitter but, on the flip side, your elation at your successes are doubled. Feelings of shame at letting down or disappointing someone who believes in you can be a strong motivator.

In many slimming clubs, the leaders are people who have lost weight as a club member, and, poor dears, their “fat pictures” are blown up to A3 size and displayed for all to see. Whilst there are no laminated posters of LawCare volunteers, they are very generous in talking frankly about their own experiences and/or addictive behaviour. Because therein lies the crucial and powerful message – If I can do it, You can do it too.

Many of those suffering from addiction or depression (as with many dieters) have lost faith in themselves, but having someone else who believes that they can do it, really wants them to succeed, and who takes as much pleasure in their achievements as they do, can make an enormous difference. Could you be a LawCare volunteer?

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Barristers Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)