Whilst Protect does a lot of work with businesses on helping them improve their whistleblowing arrangements, in my role as the Head of Advice, most of my typical day at Protect was previously spent supporting individuals. During my six-month secondment at law firm Lewis Silkin, which began in March, I worked across the Employment and Commercial Dispute Resolution teams, often representing large organisations so this was quite a change in clientele. Much of this work was for commercial clients rather than individuals, some of whom were themselves very large companies.
Lewis Silkin employs over 300 members of staff (across offices in London, Oxford, Cardiff, Belfast, Ireland and Hong Kong) and has a turnover of over £60 million. At Protect, we have one room, in a larger office building dedicated to charities; there are 17 members of staff, and in two of the last five years our income has dipped below our expenditure. Suffice to say, Lewis Silkin and Protect were a world away in terms of resources!
Across those two teams at Lewis Silkin, I worked variously on a sexual discrimination claim, a corporate fraud action, a dispute regarding ownership of intellectual property, as well as many other pieces of work. It was great to see so many different areas of law and how they’re applied. Whilst representing organisations is in many respects quite different to supporting individuals, organisations are of course made up of individuals, and it was interesting to see lots of crossover in the skills and considerations needed.
Whilst my time on secondment opened my eyes to the many differences between an organisation like Protect, and one like Lewis Silkin, I was more surprised at the similarities. Chief among these was the sort of people I was working with. Despite undertaking different types of work, in very different environments, my colleagues at both organisations shared a lot in common; they were smart, collaborative, and absolutely committed to the individuals that they were there to help.
At Protect, the advice that we provide to whistleblowers is completely free. Protect generates the income required to provide this advice chiefly through the paid-for training and consultancy which it provides to businesses. This income stream doesn’t just go towards funding our advice services, though, but is used to fund the charity across all of its operations. Consequently, the level of assistance that individual whistleblowers want from Protect is often beyond what the charity has the resources to provide. During my time at Lewis Silkin, I was able to see what can be achieved when work is fully funded and considerable resource can be expended. Hopefully one day Protect will be in a position where it has a much greater level of funding coming into the organisation and can provide an even greater level of service to individuals who so desperately need its support.
By Bob Matheson, Head of Advocacy & Advice