Michael Szlesinger, a trainee solicitor at Lewis Silkin LLP, joined Protect for six months on secondment and shares his experience of his time with Protect.
“When I started my secondment, I had little knowledge of employment law – let alone the niche area of whistleblowing law. Moreover, I came from a commercial law background, where firms typically act for employers rather than employees. So, the prospect of a secondment to Protect, the UK’s leading whistleblowing charity, was daunting at first. Thankfully, Protect’s internal training was rigorous, and within a few weeks I was on my feet interviewing and advising whistleblowers on preliminary aspects of whistleblowing law.
Now, after six months, I feel like I know the UK’s ‘whistleblowing Act’, the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, like the back of my hand. (Disclaimer: I don’t, but I can recite the main sections with my eyes closed!) Indeed, an advantage of whistleblowing law is that it’s almost contained in a single Act. This allowed me to gain in-depth knowledge in a short amount of time.
I knew that I would be expected to manage my own caseload on the Advice Line, which I initially assumed would equate to a handful of whistleblowers per month. However, over the course of my secondment, I advised over 180 whistleblowers. No two cases were the same, and I enjoyed the fresh challenge that each one brought. Some whistleblowers that I advised had endured unthinkable forms of victimisation for having raised their concerns. Others had disclosed stories about institutional wrongdoing to the press and were being sued as a result. Irrespective of the scale or seriousness of the concerns themselves, each and every whistleblower had acted selflessly, often with little regard to personal consequences. The sheer altruism of whistleblowers never ceased to amaze me, and working with them to address public interest concerns felt meaningful.
Alongside manning the Advice Line, I also worked with both the Business Support and Policy teams. For Business Support, I co-delivered several in-house training sessions to Protect’s clients on whistleblowing law and best practice for employers. I was also given the opportunity to create a brand-new training course from scratch on whistleblowing investigations and deliver training to clients. I found it highly rewarding, and it allowed me to enhance my oral presentation skills. For Policy, I carried out legal research to assist with Protect’s lobbying efforts and new Legal Reform Campaign ‘Let’s Fix UK Whistleblowing Law’, and drafted several blog posts and articles on recent developments in whistleblowing law.
As my secondment with Protect comes to an end, I look back fondly on my time here. Protect are a real crack-team of whistleblowing experts, and I learned a lot by working with them – not just about whistleblowing law, but about the interaction between law and society. Indeed, whistleblowing engages both employment law and human rights. It’s a form of free speech that is fundamental to democracy. UK whistleblowing law is fiddly and outdated, so we need organisations like Protect to promote healthy speak-up cultures and safeguard the public interest. I’m proud of what I achieved on my secondment, and am grateful to have helped Protect further its mission.”
By Michael Szlesinger