How the legal profession is coping with Covid-19
Siobahn Taylor-Ward, Merseyside Law Centre, Liverpool
'On 16th March I was representing in a case on the warrant list, the court was packed and there were no precautions in place, you would never have known we were in the midst of a pandemic. On 17th March I got a call in work to say that my son’s after school club was closing as staff were isolating due to vulnerabilities. I left work early to go and collect him feeling panicked. We had had a meeting that afternoon to discuss the new way of working; drop in would be closed; no more face-to-face client meetings and we were to use the rest of the week to prepare to work from home.
My daughter arrived home from school with a persistent, dry cough. So overnight I became a stay at home mum, full time solicitor and full time teacher. In the meantime the guidance on leaving the house escalated and all staff at the Centre were to work from home. It has been difficult to adapt, I had no files and my tech wasn’t in place. I’ve had lots of new extremely vulnerable clients many with English as a second language, we would all benefit from face-to-face contact. Due to changes in eligibility for homelessness assistance and new arguments for section 4 support I am helping very vulnerable migrants to access accommodation and support at this frightening time.
There are problems with lack of address and smartphone or email address too which we are struggling to work around. So I cared for a sick teenager (who is now thankfully recovered) and somehow amuse and teach an 8 year old too, whilst doing my job and wrestling with the tech (my favourite job of all!). It’s not easy but I am really glad I have this opportunity to help.'
Melinda Giles, the Law Society’s private client section committee, Giles Wilson, Essex
'The biggest challenge for Giles Wilson was organising will signings that had already been booked in when the lockdown occurred. We had no hesitation with closing the front doors when advised, but with two busy high street offices we had to think quickly about how to manage the clients’ needs and expectations when a lot of them were anxious and looked to us for support.
Fortunately, we were able to adapt our large banking hall reception that over the years has already seen itself used as a lecture hall, office Christmas party space, Monday yoga club and Monthly Movie Night venue, into a Covid-19 Special Arrangements Will signing hall. With different entrances, and table set up in the middle with a two-metre diameter around it, we were set to go, and it has, for us, become symbolic of the current situation.
As for the team itself, the terms flexi-working and free dress have taken on a whole new meaning, as our regular Zoom group hugs have demonstrated. Personally, I have found it completely distracting and far too much fun looking into all my colleagues’ working spaces when we are having a department meeting. However, it has definitely kept our sense of team going as we discover new things about each other, from those who are spending their days sitting cross legged on their beds in their pyjamas surrounded by posters on their wall, to those of us who are trying our best to model our “Zoom image” on a Channel 4 newsreader’s background.’
David Greene, vice president, the Law Society, Edwin Coe, London
‘"Our offices may be closed but we’re open for business". This oft repeated catchphrase reflects all the Law Society and the profession is doing in response to the current crisis. At this time, the health and welfare of everyone is paramount but behind the closed doors of home, the work goes on. I spend a good part of my day dealing with Law Society business - speaking to and emailing our wonderful staff, the president and deputy vice president, the board and our members, considering all the hard work going into informing and guiding our membership and the public. I find it more tiring than being in the office but to a certain extent more productive. It may indeed be healthier because I get up early and then early to bed. The meetings, dinners and receptions have gone. But a large part of the job of a Law Society office holder is to meet and talk to people round the country and the world. All the differing video conferencing facilities cannot replace face-to-face discussion. I miss that but it’s unlikely to come back for some months, so Skype will be the new normal for some time. Keep well.'
Max Winthrop, chair, the Law Society’s employment law committee, Short Richardson and Forth, Newcastle
‘Who’d have thought, even a few weeks ago, that the simple act of shopping could be a task fraught with moral and ethical dilemmas?
It is difficult to believe that we’ve been in lockdown for less than a fortnight. So far, for employment lawyers, I suspect that this has been an incredibly busy period: it certainly has been for the Law Society’s employment law committee, which I am privileged to chair. The novelty of trying to digest more than 300 pages of emergency legislation, which overlays rather than replaces existing laws, is sufficient distraction from the current crisis, not to mention having to come to terms with Skype and Zoom.
The stresses and strains caused by coronavirus on the way in which we work, and in the way we apply the law to that relationship may be tested to breaking point by the current crisis. Coronavirus will make heroes of many workers, and a very substantial portion of those heroes will come from jobs that, in the past, have been underpaid, undervalued and casualised. If any good is to come from the current troubles, let us hope that in the post virus world we can re-evaluate the contributions exactly those workers who in the past have simply been taken for granted.’
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.