I am aware that most of you reading this will be social care practitioners in one capacity or the other, so you will probably read this and chuckle. But I imagine how I felt during my first client visit is a lot like how non-lawyers feel the first time they are asked to come to court.
Because, you see, one of the reasons I chose my current career is that I take comfort from the rules and procedures it includes. I know the game, I know the key players, I know how far rules apply and where they don’t. I am comfortable in that certainty. I put on my lawyer mask and I play my part the best of can. But people? Well that’s a whole other ball game.
Yet one of the things I talk about quite a lot is how the law often isn’t set up to deal with the messiness of real-life and the infinite number of scenarios that may come up. It is one of the many reasons I chose to move to private practice: to be closer to the people I am trying to help. I wanted to get a more comprehensive view of how all of this works on the ground. Including the messiness.
That doesn’t mean I wasn’t nervous though. I mean it’s pretty normal to be nervous when trying to do something new. And the complexities of this being my first solo travelling since the pandemic, and lateral flow tests and PPE only added to those nerves. And when I arrived at the front door of that care home, I really wasn’t sure what to expect.
Of course it turned out to be a perfectly pleasant afternoon, sat in a conservatory talking to my client about her husband, her daughter and her faith. We spoke about love and loneliness, and how mothers really do know best.
And this has always been the part of the process that was a bit of a mystery to me. Because I know that solicitors instructed by a litigation friend generally do visit the person the proceedings are about. The frequency of those visits depends a lot on how the person reacts to the visits in the first place. We certainly don’t want to cause any unnecessary distress, or trigger any challenging behaviour. But we can only learn so much about a person from reading other people’s reports
You see on each of my cases I have a pile of third-hand information from social workers, doctors, occupational therapists, nurses, advocates and family members. I will also generally have received records from the care home, sometimes even copies of health records and social care records too. And from there I can build an idea of who a person is, what they want and what they need. But I used to get access to all of those reports in my old job too.
Client visits add the colour to the picture, I think. I didn’t learn anything of real consequence about my client that I hadn’t already read in other people’s reports. Yet still I feel like I know her a little better than I did before I arrived at that care home on a sunny afternoon last week.
But it is more important than even that. Because I am going to make decisions on my client’s behalf. I am going to prepare and application and write letters that my client will probably not see (although if she ever wanted to, I would certainly let her see them, unless there was a very good reason why doing so wasn’t in her best interests). The court is going to make decisions, there is going to be meetings and hearings which she told me she wouldn’t want to attend. But she still has a right to know what is going on. Even if she’s forgotten about our conversation by now, she is a person with dignity and autonomy and should be treated as such.
So I explained to her who I am and what I do. I explained to her what the Court of Protection is, in the plain English that I hope you have all realised is my preferred way of talking about these issues anyway. She asked her questions, told me she would like me to make an application because she really does want to go home. And then she thanked me for my time, and went back to watch Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? on the big TV in the lounge.
And I’m confident I will be thinking about that meeting for a while, my people skills probably do need some honing!
In case it isn’t obvious from the fact I still haven’t identified the authority I used to work for, or the organisation I now work for, the views expressed on this blog are my own opinion and not the opinion of either that local authority or organisation