Corporate attorney honoured for volunteer work

| 07/04/2017
CNS Local Life

Simon Raftopoulos receives his award from Charmaine Miller of Family Resource Centre

(CNS Local Life): A corporate lawyer, more used to winning tough cases than earning plaudits for his caring nature, has earned the 2016 Lee A. Freeman award in “appreciation for his selfless acts of time and dedication to the Legal Befrienders programme”. Simon Raftopoulos, a partner at Appleby (Cayman), was recognised for his 10 years of pro bono work providing free and confidential legal assistance for the programme’s low-income clients.

“This is a huge honour for me to be the latest recipient as I’ve been one of the Legal Befrienders team for many years and am fully aware of all that the award represents,” he said in a government press release. This marks the third such award for lawyers at his firm.

“I have always done a fair bit of community work so it was a natural move for me when I arrived here to look for a ground-based organisation making a difference to people’s lives. Legal Befrienders does just that,” he added.

Judith Seymour, Director of the Department of Counselling Services, which runs the programme, said, “The award was created in recognition of the late Lee A. Freeman, a stalwart volunteer, and is a way of allowing his legacy to live on and inspire other attorneys to do the same for our community. It acknowledges the recipient’s compassion, and willingness to help those in crisis.”

Clients at the free clinic are looking for a sympathetic listener who can offer sound legal advice on a range of issues including financial matters, divorce proceedings and child custody disputes.

Charmaine Miller, Acting Programme Coordinator of the Family Resource Centre where Legal Befrienders is based, said that Raftopoulos and the 30 or so other lawyers who volunteer are the backbone of the programme, donating their out-of-office time and expertise to helping many who otherwise could not afford legal representation.

“The staff front up every day to face very difficult emotional and sometimes threatening situations and this programme makes a real difference to those seeking legal advice who otherwise would have nowhere to turn,” Raftopoulos added. “We volunteers advise and counsel real people with real-life problems and through this experience we grow and challenge ourselves not only in the legal field but personally.”

Of the hundreds of clients he has counselled and referred to Legal Aid and other community resources over the years, one in particular stood out and symbolises why he continues volunteering: “A mother with young children came to see us with very real and immediate domestic violence and divorce issues. We were able to properly advise her of her rights and offer and provide a safe place for her and her children to stay.

“Just a little bit of supporting and encouraging them on what direction to take, or what options they have, did wonders and the positive change within her and her kids was truly gratifying to see.”

One of the programme’s longest servicing volunteers, Raftopoulos explained that Legal Befrienders work is not restricted to advising on family law, and noted clients can have telephone sessions if getting to the office is a problem.

“Litigation and family lawyers tend to lean into this work more naturally than corporate lawyers… but the key is providing compassion and empathy and delivering objective legal advice,” he said.

Miller spoke of the diverse clients who use Legal Befrienders. “Individuals and families who access this service come from different walks of life and face various issues, including work-related matters or immigration issues. Confidentiality is an important aspect and our clients have a right to know the lawyers on duty to avoid conflict of interest issues.

“We are delighted to have given Simon this award as he has displayed commitment and initiative in expanding our pool of volunteers.”

Those who train to become Legal Befrienders donate at least one evening a month and must be willing to step in as required. Sessions and time spent with each client per visit vary so the office is open anywhere between one and four hours a night.

To learn more about the work of Legal Befrienders, call 949-0006.

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