How the legal profession is coping with Covid-19
Naomi Angell, the Law Society children’s law sub-committee, Osbornes Law, London
'My practice doing intercountry adoption cases has not stopped during the lockdown as my clients come from all over the world.
On top of my day-to-day work, urgent cases are still coming through too. One involves a young person from the Philippines who will soon be 18. We have to issue and obtain an adoption order before her September birthday otherwise she will not acquire automatic British nationality.
Through my practice, I hear about the impact of coronavirus all over the world – in the last few days the Philippines, Dubai, Tanzania and Vietnam. Some countries are in denial, but others have restrictions which are far tougher than ours.'
Laura Uberoi, Law Society council member, Macfarlanes, London
'I ‘returned’ to work from maternity leave last week and there are so many interactions that make it a positive and exciting experience. First, my teammates arranged a series of ‘welcome back’ video conference sessions, including a catch up on legal developments in my finance world and a troubleshooting IT session for all our lawtech that I’d forgotten how to work!
Secondly, a thoughtful colleague created a WhatsApp group for everyone she knows (across many firms and our clients) who are finishing maternity leave whilst we all work from home. It is a great forum for us all to share experiences and I’d love to hear from others who are returning from parental leave during this time.
Thirdly, I have reserved time in my diary for my daughter’s mealtimes, so that we all take advantage of the current situation to share breakfast, lunch and dinner together every day – something that is nearly impossible during the week when we are all at work/nursery. In my desperation for more human contact, I started my first week back initiating an excessive number of virtual coffee/lunch meetings, however this soon became overwhelming and I have now limited myself to only a couple of virtual catch-ups each day.'
Dominic Hopkins, partner and head of disputes & litigation, Hewitsons LLP, Northampton
'Seeing the transportation of entire firms from office-based working to home-working within the space of a fortnight is not something I remotely contemplated as a prospect as we began the year. I daresay, thoughtful contingency planners will have scoped something out in one of their many risk management scenarios, but if we looked for it, I wonder whether we might have had to visit an appendix to their plans, perhaps even the last page, to find provision for the prospect. It was unexpected.
Unexpected it may have been, but transformation has been achieved. Not without some understandable angst, but it has been achieved. It has been managed well at Hewitsons thanks to an availability of suitable technology (both hardware and software), expert and committed IT staff, service platforms already well used to electronic file management, a workforce prepared to accept and adapt to change with realism (even if perhaps not all prepared to embrace it with enthusiasm) and, crucially, necessity. There is a causality dilemma in this of course. The necessity that has driven change has only arisen because change has been possible - the ingredients have been in place to equip us to respond. Would the government have been prepared to direct UK plc to work from home if we could not have done so, if, they were not confident that swathes of the service sector including our profession could adapt and operate from domestic settings? I wonder.
'Necessity has given birth to invention and our management and support teams have had to find solutions, on the hoof. They have done brilliantly and I for one am very thankful to them. A functional response to the management of change, however adept it is, is not going to be enough though. We need to ensure our people are able to thrive in a new cosmos. In that, we will do well to heed Voltaire: 'Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.' Note to self: What can I do to help my colleagues make the best of this new world? Never have communication and collaboration been more important.'
Jenny Beck, the Law Society’s family law committee, Beck Fitzgerald Solicitors, London
'The lockdown itself hasn’t been particularly traumatic for us as a firm as we operate on a paperless basis and have always worked at least a day a week from home anyway. The main adjustment has been a psychological one. We communicate twice a day via Zoom, once for a morning catchup and secondly for an optional afternoon tea break. We have also arranged Zoom pilates - which is frightening and hilarious in equal measure!
For me, my days are split between trying to ensure that the firm can operate sensibly under the lockdown and working to ensure the wheels of justice continue to turn - particularly for the most vulnerable. Whilst we might all struggle with the various aspects of being cooped up with partners and children, the unimaginable terror for those experiencing domestic abuse is something which causes me major concern. I feel that we are already seeing the tip of the iceberg with the doubling of domestic murders.
We have opened our virtual doors until 10pm to see if we can carve out a window of opportunity for victims of abuse to get to us once the kids are in bed - but this is just a tiny measure. This crisis will hurt the vulnerable and marginalised the most. The current response is inadequate and we need to act now.
I think we will be forever changed by this experience. The surge in our digital capability will be of huge benefit but it is clear that some things simply cannot work as well without being face-to-face. I am really looking forward to being able to get back into the office. It is beginning to look a little like groundhog day in my street as we slip into the inevitable daily jog/dog walk and any remaining fashion sense we had takes a serious nose dive.'
*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.