John Cox’s office is not your average law office.
There’s a view over gum trees towards the Air Force base at Richmond, one communal table for three staff, and not a tie in sight.
When Cox, 51, greets you wearing a striped blazer, jeans, open neck shirt, shiny sneakers and an equally casual handshake, you quickly realise the legal work performed here is out of the ordinary.
Cox and his team at Specialist PTSD and Injury Lawyers, which includes Nadia Rahman, a lawyer 18 months post admission, and a number of part-time law clerks, work almost exclusively with first responders suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The cases are always distressing, the clients always in ill-health or grief.
The evidence is often traumatic. “Clients come here wearing their masks,” says Cox. “They eventually drop them and most people break down as they are talking to us. We have to be especially patient with our clients and ourselves. This work can be tough.”
PTSD is a serious health condition that can develop following traumatic events. Curtin University researcher and psychologist Petra Skeffington has estimated one in five police officers suffers PTSD in their lifetime; rage and increased alcohol use are common outcomes.
Cox has worked in personal injury claims for most of his career and is an Accredited Specialist in Personal Injury Law. He came late to the law as he did poorly at school and didn’t qualify for university.
“I worked in what is now known as Border Force for a decade, mostly at Sydney Airport, which I loved, but I always wanted to be a lawyer to help people,” he says.
“Then I saw an ad for the SAB (Solicitors Admission Board) course through the Supreme Court and thought that would be a great way to study law.
I studied for five years part time and it was really challenging. It’s a great way to enter the law, though, and I wish more people knew about the SAB course.”
A father of four children aged 15 to 25 and a proud “westie” who lives in the Blue Mountains does important work.
“Just before Christmas we were still in the office late on a Friday night when an email arrived. I nearly didn’t read it but I’m glad I did, as it was a suicide note from a police officer who had come to see us about a claim for post-traumatic stress.