As we approach 60 days of ‘lockdown’ I, as a family law solicitor, have been reflecting on how things have changed from a work perspective over the last two months.
Due to the personal nature of family law it can inevitably be more ‘client facing’ than other areas of the legal profession. I have always felt a face to face meeting can be more productive and beneficial to a client and also myself, as their solicitor. The connection and trust between solicitor and client are key to a successful working relationship. This is especially the case for individuals going through what is often a very difficult and emotional time in their personal life. That trust can often be best created at an ‘in person’ meeting rather than a phone call or via email.
However, with the technology we have now it has been relatively easy to maintain that ‘face to face’ contact albeit on a laptop over skype or zoom. I have found clients and other professional contacts have had no issue in communicating in this way. It has not, however, been always possible for those individuals who still live under the same roof as their spouse or partner to get the privacy to use zoom for this purpose. It is now very common for a separating couple to remain living together until a financial settlement has been reached or the child arrangements agreed, even after their relationship has broken down.
We cannot know how many people have felt unable to seek legal advice over the last few months for this reason. However, it might now be as the restrictions are eased that private communication is easier even it means a phone call from the car whilst parked up at the supermarket.
As with all public buildings, the family courts have had a huge challenge to deal with the vast number of court hearings which were scheduled to take place over the last few months. These have been conducted remotely wherever possible. There have been some adjournments to a later date, but the court has tried to accommodate all ‘urgent’ hearings. I have also seen an increased willingness for solicitors to try and work more collaboratively to seek to agree matters by consent to remove the need for contested hearings. Hopefully this will be one of the longer lasting legacies of the lockdown.
Working from home has been a challenge, but one my colleagues and I have embraced as I am sure most office-based workers have. With a reliable case management system, an online legal research platform, a fully charged laptop and phone I have been able to undertake the full range of client work and it is also easy for several solicitors to co work on the same case. As a business we had already progressed to being ‘paper light’ and the lockdown has forced us to go to the next step and we are now virtually ‘paper less’ which is a good thing.
It has taken some time to adjust to the lack of human contact and conversation in the office, but again daily phone calls have kept a good line of communication between us. Away from the legal work we have had a weekly Maguire Family Law virtual quiz which has been a good way for everyone to see each other and relax after the working day.
Time will tell whether things will go back to how they were pre lockdown, but I think I will reflect on this period with satisfaction in that we have been able to continue delivering our best service to clients throughout.