At Paramount we think business should be more than transactional. We believe in building long-term relationships with our Clients and getting to know the person behind the screen. The nature of our job means we are given a unique insight into how hard our Clients work and the impact they have on the lives of others. As such, our Private Client Team decided to do a deep-dive into the role of Professional Deputies, to find out what this role really entails and to shine a light on some of the amazing unsung work that Deputies do. We hope you enjoy spending some time with one of our long-standing clients, Rachel Swinburne.
Rachel Swinburne, Deputy
I met with Rachel in January, when we were all creeping out of a festive hibernation, putting down the Quality Street and venturing out in the cold mornings to defrost the car and head into the office once more. I’m sure as you are reading this now, after a blistering summer heatwave, I could very easily be talking about another world entirely.
Sometimes, as Costs Lawyers, it feels like we do live in another world to our clients. We don’t often meet face to face, often communicating through emails, sometimes from opposite ends of the country. Whilst working on a file, you are given a small insight into the Deputy and their client’s world; their relationship and the unique set of circumstances that impact upon their life and management of the Deputyship. People and places that you would otherwise never encounter, if you had not been allocated that particular file.
When Rachel contacted me to say she would be in Carlisle in January, I was eager to meet her in person and learn more about her career. We met at Paramount HQ, complete with pastries and tea, to ward off the January blues. Rachel had been to see a client in Carlisle, it was strange to think of our two worlds meeting. I started by asking Rachel the most important question, how did she take her tea? And secondly, how had she found her way into a career as a Professional Deputy?
Rachel studied History of Art at St Andrews University and qualified as a Solicitor from The College of Law in York in 1994. Rachel tells me she began her career working as a Children’s Panel Solicitor for 15-years, she was drawn to this type of work due to the ability to help vulnerable people in society, however, became disheartened by the system and bureaucracy. Having always loved Trusts and Capacity at Law School, Rachel naturally progressed her career in Private Client Law and is now a Professional Deputy, Partner at Clarke Mairs Solicitors, full member of both the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and Solicitors for the Elderly. Rachel also holds an SFE Older Client Care in Practice Award.
Rachel’s credentials certainly paint the image of someone who is an expert and extremely skilled in their profession. I felt I already knew her a little, having worked on many of her files and the image I had certainly aligned. However, on meeting Rachel in person, I was also struck by how personable she is. There is a certain sense of reassurance in her presence, a feeling that you are talking to someone who is not only extremely capable but kind and compassionate and will ensure those in her vicinity are at ease and accommodated for. I attempted to make her a cup of tea, yet in amidst us chatting, Rachel had found the milk in the fridge and made me a cup of tea. That may seem insignificant to some; however, I can imagine her self-assured and personable approach, has made many of her clients over the years feel relaxed in the knowledge they are in a very safe pair of hands.
As someone who seems to be a very practical, hands-on person, Rachel is clearly suited to her role, which on a day-to-day basis she tells me can vary from managing investments, forensic analysis of accounts, paying bills, dealing with house clearances, liaising with family members, care teams and local authorities to dealing with sensitive and contentious issues, such as investigating financial abuse within a family. Rachel identifies that often liaising with a client’s family is a difficult part of her role. As a Panel Deputy she is often appointed and parachuted into the client’s life, as she puts it. There is often a complex background and family history to navigate and a large amount of information to wade through, before the client’s needs can be identified.
On the other end of the scale, sometimes there is little to no information. Tragically, with an epidemic of loneliness on the rise, Rachel tells me it is becoming all too common to be appointed as someone’s Deputy, only to find that individual has no one else. She tells me of clients who have been discharged from hospital to care homes, with not a single belonging, wearing the clothes they were admitted in. Or those who, during the recent pandemic, would have silently slipped into the background, if they had not had a Professional Deputy, someone to act as an advocate, in a system where they may otherwise have become invisible.
It is extremely clear to me from talking with Rachel, that although she is a professional through and through, the pain she encounters does not go unnoticed. We discuss one of her most impactful cases, where she was appointed for a mother in her 30’s, who had tragically attempted suicide, leaving her with brain damage and physical limitations. Rachel recalls the first occasion they met; the client was living in a care home for elderly patients with dementia, which was highly unsuitable for her needs, she had not left the home in 9-months, spending most of her days in bed with the curtains drawn and no focus on rehabilitation. From her appointment as Deputy, Rachel worked tirelessly to put pressure on the local authority to move her client to a more suitable placement. She now lives independently with 24-hour support, from being bed bound, she now enjoys a morning swim most days and has been able to begin rebuilding her life and family.
This particular client has clearly had a lasting effect on Rachel and I can tell from speaking with her how much satisfaction she gets from being able to be a voice for those who have sadly lost their own. I am intrigued as to how someone who takes on so much responsibility for others manages to protect themselves from the sadness and pain she must encounter.
We discuss what qualities Rachel feels make a good Deputy and the three words that stand out to her are; compassionate, people-focussed and robust. Having met Rachel, I can confirm these are three qualities she possesses in abundance. Rachel also adds that any Deputy must have a good sense of humour, in reference to this she tells me of the client who once requested a full set of solid gold dental implants for the very reasonable sum of £37,000.
I can’t imagine how someone as poised and professional as Rachel would have reacted to this request, but upon seeing the twinkle in her eye as she recalls this story, I can appreciate she is someone who not only respects people as individuals, but also finds the fun in their unique absurdities. To be entirely honest though, I think if you spend £37,000 on a set of solid gold teeth, you may as well live in another world, you could get at least 3 full tanks for fuel for that these days!