Hello, my name is Victoria Mansell and I am the ‘Vulnerable Client’, Partner Solicitor at SNS Solicitors in Maidstone. I have worked in the care and education industry for 20 years. This blog is about blurring the lines and being brave enough to do so in a professional capacity when it is appropriate…
I started out as a carer working in hospitals, nursing homes, children’s homes and residential settings for adults with physical and mental issues across London and Kent. I qualified as a solicitor in 2017, after working as a SEN teacher, specialising in ASD as well as multiple and profound learning and physical difficulties. I retrained as a solicitor because I was increasingly aware that, while care provision for vulnerable people in this country is better than some, it is not what I would want it to be.
My specialist areas of legal practice are disability and equality matters, Mental Health and Special Educational Needs Tribunals, issues of capacity, including Deputyship, Wills and Probate.
In every job I have ever had, I was taught to draw a line between the professional and personal, to keep my students, my clients, my service users at arm’s length to maintain a professional distinction. Whilst in many situations, this is absolutely the most appropriate action to take, sometimes, the best thing to do for your client (while always first protecting yourself) is to give a little to get something back. The importance of showing genuine sympathy and empathy as a Vulnerable Client solicitor is significant and is often, sadly, underestimated.
The days of a Practising Certificate being enough on their own to convince your clients to listen to you are numbered. Increasingly, being a successful lawyer or any professional is also about the type of person your clients recognise you to be and your ability to relate to their issues and needs.
Throughout my careers(s), I have often questioned the appropriateness of maintaining such a rigid barrier between the professional and personal. I remember working with abused children, being firmly told not to tell them anything personal about myself and wondering how I could possibly expect them to disclose their abuse to me if they didn’t know anything about me. If we share our truths, people are more likely to share back. In a profession where client care and full understanding of the client’s background and issue is key, perhaps we, as an industry, need to have a conversation about how we present ourselves to the people we purport to want to help.
SNS Solicitors are all about being approachable to our clients and we want them to be relaxed enough so they are comfortable telling us their deepest and darkest secrets. How can we expect our clients to trust us and our expertise without knowing what that expertise is and how it came about?
18 months ago, I became a carer for my partner who was diagnosed with a brain tumour. I know now what being an unpaid carer really involves. I know the relentlessness, the sadness, the worry, the tiredness, the tedium and the resentment it can bring. Cooking, cleaning, dressing, transporting, arranging appointments and general looking after responsibilities are draining enough, but when you add the arrangement of legal affairs (without even knowing what these might be) the job of a carer becomes far weightier and more difficult to navigate.
I know the bone-crunching fear of someone you love being put in a position of vulnerability. I know what it feels like to try and hold down a career, a relationship, a family and a life while life as you knew it turns itself inside out. I know how it feels to be the lynchpin that tries to hold it all together. This is the expertise I bring to the often unspoken of world of care and vulnerability and how the law deals with it. This is the knowledge I bring to my clients as they navigate the world of personal caring responsibilities. We don’t, as a society, talk enough about vulnerability, illness, care and the impact that all of these have on families, and I cannot imagine this getting better until people have the courage to share their personal experiences in their professional lives.
Victoria Mansell is ‘Vulnerable Client’, Partner Solicitor at SNS Solicitors in Maidstone.