Little lifts

Laura van Ree

Rachel Gilbert talks to another local inspirational woman.

Norfolk born Laura van Ree originally worked in the local charitable sector before retraining to become a solicitor with Fosters LLP. Very quickly she was promoted to Partner and made Head of the Wills, Trusts and Probate Department. After a short career break, for the birth of her daughter, Laura returned to work as a Senior Associate at Birketts LLP.

During the pandemic, Laura spent a lot of time reflecting on the current legal model with a strong desire to create a more philanthropic approach. In early 2021, with the support of friend and ex-colleague, Trina Worden, Laura took a leap of faith and set up Not For Profit Law. “It was obviously a bit of a gamble, some colleagues thought we were mad setting up on our own during a pandemic but others were almost envious because it was exciting and new,” Laura said

Not For Profit Law is a social enterprise, founded on the idea of ‘doing law differently’. The community interest company brings together Laura and Trina’s 30 years of experience in the legal sector to offer advice at affordable rates, feeding the profits they make back into the local community. From their first three months alone, Not For Profit Law has donated £5,000 to local causes via their charitable partner, Norfolk Community Foundation. In addition to the gift made by Not For Profit Law, clients who have benefited from free advice have also generously made personal donations in excess of £2,000.

In a bid to break down barriers and make lawyers less intimidating, Laura takes a relaxed approach to offering legal services. They will offer pro bono advice over the phone and support clients doing work themselves. Laura wants to change the perception that lawyers are stiff.

Not For Profit Law specialises in  wills, tax, Powers of Attorney, Court of Protection, probate, estate administration and trusts. The company doesn’t get involved in distributing the charity donations, rather leaving it all to the Norfolk Community Foundation.

The Norfolk Community Foundation works with a range of donors and fundraises for the local community. It then provides funding to charities and support to the most vulnerable people in the community.

“Our time and energy is best spent providing legal services, we do what we do and we trust the foundation to do what they do,” Laura said. “The amazing people working at Norfolk Community Foundation really have their finger on the pulse when it comes to where the need is greatest in our county. They use their expertise to bring resources and people together to help tackle the issues faced by the most vulnerable in our community. We do what we do best by giving quality legal advice, and we leave Norfolk Community Foundation to do what they do best. It is an honour to support them in this way”

To maximise their profits, Laura and Trina aim to keep their overheads to a minimum. They don’t therefore rent offices but instead can see clients at Norfolk Community Foundation’s office in Norwich or visit clients in their own homes.

The nature of the advice Laura gives means she often sees people during emotional times. Laura enjoys the softer side of this area of law, guiding people through legal complexities in a sensitive way. She commented: “I love the level of human interaction my job allows. You can really see the difference that you make to people”.

Since the company started in May 2021, Laura has seen a ripple effect — she has received calls from across the country from other people interested in setting up community interest companies. The concept has evolved a lot since Laura and Trina first hatched the idea — “I think there is a lot of appetite in the professional community to do things differently, with a view to giving back more. I can foresee more businesses like Not For Profit Law existing in the future and feel privileged to be able to help anyone who may be at the start of that journey” Laura said.

Whilst it has no doubt been hard work setting up Not For Profit Law, the model still enables Laura to achieve a good work-life balance. When she isn’t meeting with clients for Not For Profit Law, Laura is far from sitting down with her feet up. The single mother of a five-year-old also runs an online shop selling eco-friendly Christmas trees, and plays with the Norfolk Iceni basketball club.

Eco Christmas Tree began as a personal project when Laura made a wooden tree for herself one year — she was soon asked repeatedly if she would make them to sell. In her first year, Laura sold over 60 trees. The trees are made from hazel coppice sourced in Norfolk, and can be used year after year with zero waste.

The wood used is cut as part of traditional woodland management and consists of younger sprouts that are removed from trees for conservation purposes that would be otherwise burned. No trees are actually harmed in the making of an Eco Christmas Tree. Laura commented “It provides a nice balance with my legal career; it is good to have a creative outlet”.

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