When the Cancer Council Pro Bono Program was launched in NSW in 2010, a handful of law firms signed on to participate, the Cancer Council writes.
The program was developed in response to an increasing awareness about unmet legal and financial needs of people affected by cancer which arise as a direct result of their diagnosis.
Now, over 1,000 professional organisations across the country volunteer their time to assist people affected by cancer with legal, financial and workplace issues which have ensued as a result of a cancer diagnosis. The service is free for people who cannot afford to pay for advice.
In addition to its physical and emotional toll, cancer can have a significant financial impact as a result of out-of-pocket costs and loss of income.
Cancer Council’s pro bono program national manager, Maria Shaw, sees first-hand how people can be hit hard financially by a cancer diagnosis.
“Being diagnosed with cancer doesn’t just impact a person’s health – it can significantly affect their work and finances. We see many people affected by cancer who have to take extended time off work while facing increased medical bills and other expenses,” she says.
Cancer Council allocates eligible clients to professionals in their community who offer free assistance. Approximately 10,000 people have received assistance on a pro bono basis through the program, with the number of referrals growing steadily each year.
Ms Shaw says there is no typical client.
“The program may refer a 50-year-old patient who, after paying insurance premiums for over 30 years, is struggling with an insurance claim; a long-standing employee whose employment has been terminated after his diagnosis; or a 30-year-old mother who has been diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and told she has a matter of months to get her affairs in order,” she says.
To address the range of issues that people affected by cancer may face, the pro bono panel not only includes law firms, but also financial planning practices, human resources professionals and small business accountants. Many people can be referred to multiple professionals to ensure they can access the advice and support they need.
Health professionals who refer their clients to the program remarked on the significant impact that pro bono work makes.
“I have seen such a change in people’s level of stress and an improvement in their ability to cope (which equals better health outcomes) when we are able to resolve some of their legal and financial complications,” said one.
“…to have someone provide pro bono assistance can mean the difference between peace of mind and overwhelming stress in the face of so many other life stressors,” added another.
How can you get involved?
In terms of legal issues, the Pro Bono Program refers clients for help with wills and powers of attorney, employment and discrimination matters, insurance, credit and debt, immigration queries, superannuation and welfare rights.