Simon Raftopoulos, a partner at Appleby (Cayman) Ltd., has received the 2016 Lee A. Freeman award in appreciation for his selfless acts of time and dedication to the Legal Befrienders Program.
The award recognizes the pro bono work Mr. Raftopoulos has carried out for 10 years by providing free and confidential legal assistance for the program’s low-income clients
“This is a huge honor 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,” the attorney said.
He is Appleby’s third award recipient.
“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 organization making a difference to people’s lives. Legal Befrienders does just that” Mr. Raftopoulos added.
Judith Seymour, director of the Department of Counselling Services which runs the program, said the award was created in recognition of the late Lee A. Freeman, a stalwart volunteer.
It is a way of allowing his legacy to live on and inspire other attorneys to do the same for our community, she said. “It acknowledges the recipient’s compassion, and willingness to help those in crisis.”
The program’s clients are typically looking for a sympathetic listener who can offer sound legal advice when dealing with the fallout from a range of issues including financial matters, divorce proceedings and child custody issues.
Charmaine Miller, acting program coordinator of the Family Resource Centre, where Legal Befrienders is based, said that Mr. Raftopoulos and the 30 or so other lawyer-volunteers, who are the backbone of the program, donate their out-of-office time and expertise to help many who otherwise could not afford legal representation.
Individuals and families who access this service come from different walks of life and face various issues, including work-related matters or immigration issues, she said.
“The staff front up every day to face very difficult emotional and sometimes threatening situations and this program makes a real difference to those seeking legal advice who otherwise would have nowhere to turn. 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,” Mr. Raftopoulos noted.
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 symbolizes why he continues volunteering, he explained. “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,” he said.
“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 program’s longest serving volunteers, the lawyer reiterated that Legal Befrienders work is not restricted to advising on family law. He also mentioned that clients can have telephone sessions if getting to the office is a problem.
“We are delighted to have given Simon this award as he has displayed commitment and initiative in expanding our pool of volunteers,” Ms. Miller said.