How community-focused law firms overcame barriers of COVID-19
Cancer Council’s Pro Bono Program provides people affected by cancer across Australia with access to free legal, financial planning, small business accounting and workplace assistance, where they would be otherwise unable to do so due to cost, illness or other barriers. Since 2020, the coronavirus pandemic presented a new barrier to accessing this assistance, but the team at Cancer Council and its national network of pro bono professionals pivoted to overcome challenges and ensure this vital service continued.
Laura Muir, Manager, Client Experience, Legal & Financial Support Services, admires how professionals involved in the program have embraced changes to continue to help:
“It’s incredible to see the innovation that has occurred, particularly within the legal industry during COVID-19 and how the law, and lawyers have pivoted to ensure vulnerable clients continue to receive assistance.”
Community-focused law firm Coutts started volunteering their time and legal expertise through Cancer Council’s Pro Bono Program in 2017, with the cause close to the heart of a valued team member. The full service firm started by offering free assistance with wills and powers of attorney to cancer patients in the Cessnock community, and over time have expanded this support to communities across NSW.
Kaisha Gambell, Senior Associate at Coutts and head of their wills and estate planning team, has assisted many cancer patients following a referral from Cancer Council’s Pro Bono team:
“Coutts has always taken a real community approach We like to get to know our clients and be part of their lives. When we first started working with Cancer Council, I was excited for us to have an opportunity to help even more than we can with our local clients. We all know someone who has been touched by cancer in one way or another – so it’s important for us to support with the knowledge and skills we have.”
Providing a critical service for terminally ill cancer patients
During COVID-19, the firm quickly adapted to new, temporary remote-witnessing measures allowing for wills to be signed and witnessed using video-conferencing technology. This meant that there was no disruption to this critical service despite the ongoing lockdowns and increased vulnerability to people with cancer.
In a usual setting, Coutts would provide pro bono services for Cancer Council clients in the location of their choice, whether that be at home, in the Coutts office or even at a hospital bedside, bringing a portable printer along so they can print and sign documents all in one day.
Kaisha said: “Thankfully, the law changed during the pandemic to allow us to witness documents remotely. This is a big shift – prior to that, a person would have to see a lawyer face to face to get their affairs in order. Having these changes in place has meant that people who might pass away soon, such as a person with terminal cancer, can still have that peace of mind.
“One of the main things when meeting a client with cancer is helping them to feel at ease. We always receive clear and comprehensive referrals from Cancer Council – it helps the client to feel comfortable when we already have this information about their family and what they want to do with their estate. We talk to all our clients about what will happen when they die – for clients referred by Cancer Council it’s especially important that we address this in an empathetic but direct way because for some of them, they know that death isn’t a hypothetical, it’s the reality. We have helpful resources developed by Cancer Council that guide us in this and which we share with new lawyers who join the firm.”
“One client that stays with me was a man, about the same age as my dad, with brain cancer. He wanted everything to go to his wife and during our conversation there was this unsaid realisation that his children were going to go on and live their lives without him. I found that especially emotional. I remember thinking how brave he was.”
To find out more about Cancer Council’s Pro Bono service, please call our information and support line on 13 11 20. If you speak a language other than English, you can contact our Translator service on 13 14 50 or we can arrange a telephone interpreter for you. You can also speak to a social worker at your treatment centre, and they can request assistance for you.
Our Pro Bono Program has received support from the AMP Foundation since 2010 and, over this time, AMP-licensed financial advisers have helped thousands of Australians affected by cancer on a pro bono basis.