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A year ago today the whole nation's lives changed when we were all told to 'stay at home, save lives and protect the NHS' in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a sobering time and a reality check for most. A sense of fear and nervousness was experienced by many.
People have suffered in different ways, have experienced life as we have never known with limits set on whom we can meet, on how we can meet and the simple things we all take for granted on a day to day basis reset. There are those who have lost loved ones or gone through difficult times in their own way.
COVID-19 and the law
For lawyers, their practices, their clients, and the way we work also has seen a change that none of us really thought was possible. To not be able to meet a client in person in the office seemed an unrealistic and unworkable way to carry out our responsibilities. To have to engage in remote hearings with the Judge and other parties, on the end of a telephone or a video seemed almost surreal. Usually, during the course of a hearing it is possible to speak to your client and explain or take further instructions. This was no longer possible.
Firms had to be progressive and quick off their feet to adapt to the new guidance, although some, like Pinney Talfourd, were prepared and swiftly their solicitors were given delivery of laptops, PCs, and printers to enable them to work from home. The most important aim was to not disrupt client care and maintain continuity. It was not only difficult for us to change the way we work but also for clients who are used to face-to-face contact with their solicitor. As a family lawyer, I believe it is that personal contact that helps the client get through emotional times as empathy and understanding is often relayed by facial expressions.
For some staff, not being able to go into the office and have contact with colleagues was also a test of strength of will and personality. For some, like myself starting a new job, was strange as there was no induction or walks around the office to meet colleagues, but a meeting with your PC! A solitary and challenging beginning but the knowledge that someone was there to help on Microsoft Teams, or the telephone was very important.
One year on
A year on today, most of us are still working from home, with no face-to-face contact with clients. We all hope that normality will begin to set in from April 12 when the firm's doors will open once again. However, I do believe that working practices have changed forever and the idea of working from home and from the office will continue to be a new norm. Remote hearings and online submissions of various documents has its advantages and may help with the backlog the courts have in terms of hearing time and processing paperwork. A new way of thinking has been enforced upon us all but hopefully, it will have improved our working practices, made us realise the invaluable simple things of being able to meet and see our clients and colleagues. I do believe that clients have been positive in the new way of our working and have supported us throughout – with IT glitches, internet overload and the list of modern technology problems goes on. I have learned that when forced to, we can all adapt but still offer the best service we strive to provide for our clients.
Hopefully, we will be able to look again this time next year, and although some of the new practices and ways of working will continue, we will all also be able to sit in our office, attend court and meet our clients and colleagues with a coffee.
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This article was written by Angela Sharma, Senior Associate in the Family Law Team. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of March 2021.