How the legal profession is coping with Covid-19
Suzanne Gill, Wedlake Bell, London
‘I’ve loved all the positive mental attitude from my colleagues and counterparts, actually. Everyone talks about collaboration on their websites and now we get to walk the talk. It’s been good to work through the Mercury case, remember whether we drafted a deed because we needed one or because we just always do, puzzle our way round electronic signatures. And this has happened with colleagues I know well, lawyers from other firms I’ve dealt with for years on and off and lawyers I first met by email three weeks ago. One aspect of work in these strange times that I’d like to keep is the phone calls – so much easier to relate to someone on the phone than on email.
‘The exception that proves the rule award goes to the man from a City firm who thought I should go into work to fish out deeds for his emergency refinancing. For an empty office block. Urgent, yes. Important, apparently. Emergency? I think not. If you know who you are, your client apologised to me offline.’
Simon Holmes, Tuckers Solicitors, Kent
‘Well….here I am stationed at the dining room table. Day 13 (of 14)…courtesy of my daughter developing relevant symptoms last week.
‘First thought - it’s amazing how much you can actually get done at home! The frenetic atmosphere of the office isn’t always conducive to getting stuff done….every cloud and all that. That’s me trying to be positive…actually I’m missing the cut & thrust of being at court and the police station - doing what us criminal lawyers do best. I’m trying to stay focused on the job in hand - casework (for now). Working my files remotely with one eye on the news (a little distracting); taking statements from witnesses over the phone, dealing with bail variations for clients that need to change their addresses three times in as many days…
‘I’ve also had to deal with a number of police station related issues over the phone relating to the new COVID-19 police station protocol. A protocol which involves us defence solicitors representing our clients at the police station remotely. I never thought I’d see the day where we appear - virtually - in the interview room. Senior management, to their credit, were fairly quick to approve the protocol however the rank and file have been slow to learn of its existence let alone implement it. Hopefully this will improve very quickly in the coming days. My self-isolation came to an end on Sunday so I was ready for work Monday morning. First stop - appointment at the dining room table - to represent a client at the police station. Bizarre times.’
Masood Ahmed, University of Leicester
‘As an academic lawyer who is research active, the current situation does not necessarily require a huge working culture shift. I’m used to working alone on writing projects, whether it’s a short piece on recent legal developments or a larger, heavier project which requires months of research and writing. Although being confined at home and juggling childcare has been challenging, it provides a welcome change to the day and actually helps to focus on key priorities and to utilise work time more efficiently and productively. So although there’s a need to adjust, it does focus the mind.’
Simon Mullings, Edwards Duthie Shamash, Stratford, East London
‘On Friday 20th March I did my last housing possession court duty session for the foreseeable future. My last client of the day came to see me in the windowless 3m by 3m duty room and it quickly became clear that they had very severe symptoms cognate with the Covid 19 virus.
‘My client had no choice but to attend the court hearing of their application to suspend a warrant for their eviction. Had they not done so they would have been evicted. Their contact with the general public while they sought help with accommodation for them and their family would have been much greater. They had to be isolated in the court building but we saved their home for the time being and so now they can #StayAtHome.
‘Meanwhile I am currently well and able to work but quarantined within quarantine away from family who have underlying conditions. I have not left the attic room all week. I am busy with work and also, along with Marina Sergides, taking up the position of co-chair of Housing Law Practitioners Association. The Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MCLG) has kept us both fully occupied this week. Happily, after a week of MHCLG vacillation and confusion, the judiciary has made good on the housing minister’s promise and all evictions are now ended for three months at least. No one will have to break government guidelines trying to save their home.
‘Like most, I can continue to work on my current case files over the cloud. But it is now essential that the Legal Aid Agency rethink the way in which legally sided advice and representation can be delivered to people desperately in need of advice in a time of enforced lock-down. I would ask them look at it his way; solicitors train for years, are governed by strict professional regulations, and are subject to stringent quality assessment and auditing if they wish to do legal aid work. Breaches of professional integrity carry harsh sanctions. It is inexplicable then that the LAA will not accede to the sectors’ modest proposal that, subject to a note justifying the decision and sign-off by a supervisor, we be permitted to sign legal aid forms on behalf of eligible clients.
‘If there is to be a legal aid sector the other side of this pandemic, we must be allowed to work and provide advice to people who desperately need it. Other than that (and I hardly dare voice the first of these) the alternatives are to complete what LASPO started and kill the sector off or to bail us out.
‘All in all, better to let us work.’