Our ‘Week in the Life’ series aims to find out more about the day-to-day job for people across the firm.
Here, we chat with Michelle Stewart, a 48-year-old executive assistant based in our Newcastle office working on regulatory cases for clients who are the subject of disciplinary investigation. Michelle lives in Northumberland and has worked at Thompsons Solicitors for 20 years.
How do you start your week at Thompsons?
I have recently returned to work at the Newcastle Office on a Monday and Tuesday, with the rest of the week working from my home office.
When office-based, my work-stream colleagues (which involves our criminal lawyers) and I hold a weekly meeting to discuss any specific cases of note to share with others.
Michelle Stewart, our executive assistant based in Newcastle
I also have fortnightly meetings with my colleagues specific to regulatory work, so that we can discuss any upcoming interim order hearings, final hearings and progression of cases.
Any campaigns that Thompsons is running and/or promoting at that time are also discussed, to see how I can participate – for example, for the ‘Show Racism the Red Card’ campaign, I took a selfie of myself and my much loved dog, both wearing red!
When home working, without the daily commute, I have more time to walk my dogs before the start of the working day. I have a Labrador, aged seven, and a Miniature Dachshund, aged six months. It’s been harder to wake up during the dark winter mornings, however I love being outdoors and getting out in the fresh air with my dogs puts me on the right track for the day ahead.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities at the firm?
No two days or cases are ever the same. I work on professional misconduct cases, providing legal advice to people who are under investigation. It’s quite a niche area of legal services that we offer exclusively to trade union members.
My clients may include nurses, midwives, social workers or school teachers under investigation for various allegations, such as sexual misconduct, lack of competence, dishonesty or for a criminal conviction or caution.
On any given day, I could be liaising with regulators such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the Health Care and Professional Council, Social Work England or the Teaching Regulation Agency perhaps making submissions on behalf of my client, responding to what they have put in the wording of the allegations, or providing updates on my client’s current employment status and any remedial action undertaken by him/her.
I represent clients at all stages of proceedings, so I could find myself considering documentary evidence compiled against my clients; advising a client on what is being alleged and the chances of success of defeating it; preparing, and advising on responses to the regulators; or preparing a case for an interim or final hearing.
At interim and final hearings, Thompsons’ clients are represented by a barrister, so I routinely have conferences with my client and counsel to consider and discuss the documentary evidence and the client’s response to that.
What do you have planned for the week ahead?
As well as my more routine work, I have two final hearings listed this week - both with the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
Leading up to the hearings, I have met with both clients and counsel.
Until the hearing gets underway, it is always a very anxious time for my client, however knowing that there is a resolution in sight also offers some comfort. The regulatory investigation process can take a long time, and it is often the case that even before then my clients will have been involved in an employment and/or criminal investigation before. This all means that the charges my client faces at the final hearing are possibly something that they have been having to live with for a number of years before they get to this point.
Looking back at last week, what was your most memorable moment?
Since February 2020, I have been giving legal advice to an occupational therapist who lost his job after he was accused of falsifying building quotes for adaptations at service users’ homes, being verbally aggressive to a service user and colleague, and being dishonest. His employer also referred him to the Health Care and Professional Council.
He has always denied the allegations and, since his dismissal, he hasn’t been able to find meaningful employment in his area of practice. It has had a huge and detrimental impact on his mental and physical health.
I advised him on the documentary evidence the HCPC had provided and worked with him on his responses to the allegations. Last week his case was heard and none of the allegations were found proven.
I was obviously over the moon for him, and he emailed me shortly after the outcome of the hearing to say, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your hard work… the truth has prevailed”.
Michelle enjoying a walk with her husband
How do you like to unwind after a working week?
I enjoy being outdoors walking with my dogs, Ruby and Watson, and spending time with my family.
I live in Northumberland, so am really lucky to live next to the coast and also have so many fabulous country and woodland walks right on my doorstep. My ideal weekend involves me exploring/walking with my husband, two teenage sons and dogs, and visiting food markets – I’m a bit of a foodie and love good food and a glass of red wine.
What is your favourite part of the job?
I enjoy assisting people through what is a stressful and upsetting time for them.
Most of my clients have already been through a disciplinary process with their employer by the time I meet them. They may have been dismissed and unable to find employment in their area of practice. Facing allegations of professional misconduct can have life-changing consequences for someone’s career and livelihood, which has a knock-on effect on their personal life.
So, I take great satisfaction in being able to alleviate some of that stress through the investigation - even more so when we secure a successful outcome for them.