LAW FIRM Baker & McKenzie has set up what appears to be a first — a pro bono legal service dedicated to cancer patients.
Along with the Peter MacCallum Cancer Foundation, the firm has launched the Cancer Patients Legal Service in Melbourne. It involves 30 Baker & McKenzie lawyers of differing practice areas and seniority in the firm, and has been in pilot phase since October last year.
Patients at the Foundation are referred to the legal centre for help with accessing superannuation to deal with debt and costs around care and potential death, and powers of attorney for patients in palliative care. “Social workers were trying to deal with all these things as well as caring for the patients’ emotional needs, and that was a diversion of their precious time,” said Jennifer McVicar, director of the pro bono program at Baker & McKenzie.
The firm had considered setting up a physical legal centre, but settled for a more flexible approach. “Our clients — the patients — are not always able to be in the office with us,” said McVicar.
“Sometimes we might have to go to the hospital or their homes to advise them.” Solicitors involved in the project have been known to give power of attorney advice to clients as they lie in the centre undergoing chemotherapy. Potentially, they may need to be accessible for emergency 24 hours a day.
Benefits of the program are expected to accrue to all involved. Social workers at Peter Mac participate in training courses on legal issues run by Baker & McKenzie lawyers, and lawyers in turn are coached by social workers on the effects of cancer and how to deal sensitively with their debilitated and often terminally ill clients. Patients at the centre receive both expert legal advice and high quality social work without compromising on either.
Very few people realise the financial impact of being diagnosed with cancer, said Elizabeth Ballinger, head of social work at Peter Mac. “Some of the people we are referring to Baker & McKenzie are young people with high salaries and families who have just invested in property and want to get at their super to help them out. They couldn’t afford this kind of professional advice.”