The word unprecedented has been used with increasing frequency to describe current events and the monumental changes that we have been forced to adapt to in recent days. Indeed, it is a word that one of chambers largest clients and I have banned each other from uttering in conversation due to its overuse. Whichever words you choose to use however, there is no doubt that these are, and will continue to be, the most challenging times that many of us will face during our professional careers. These are clearly unsettling times for everyone within our industry and of course the nation as a whole. Alongside professional concerns we also worry for family and friends and are incredibly grateful for the dedication and bravery of our medical professionals.
Thankfully, at Kings Chambers we identified the threat that Corona Virus might pose to our business as early as mid-February 2020. Careful review of unfolding events in China and Europe left quiet alarms sounding of the potential disruption to daily life here in the UK. At this point we started scenario planning for such events as school closures, home working and consideration was given to the potential closure of our multiple premises and even the Civil Court system. Unfortunately, our planning and concerns which was considered extreme at the time have been realised (albeit the Civil Court system are endeavouring to avoid wholesale court closures). This early planning gave us time to ensure that technologies and systems were put in place and tested to enable all members and staff to work effectively from home.
The priority was, and still is, protecting the welfare of all members of staff whilst providing a seamless level of service both to our clients our Barristers. Our emphasis is to ensure that we do not in any way compromise the safety of clients or Counsel. Special consideration has been given to more vulnerable clients, for example, we represent many clients that are victims of mesothelioma that are undergoing treatment that leaves them with compromised immune systems. Working towards protecting them from contact with Counsel yet ensuring efficient progression of their cases was a priority. Kings Chambers began to facilitate virtual meetings with such clients’ weeks before anyone was even considering social distancing.
For many of us remote working is second nature. For others, it is a source of anxiety and stress. Supporting members of staff and Barristers in making the switch to home working has been a key element of recent weeks. We have worked collectively to reassure many members of chambers that they can continue to work and represent their clients effectively from home. We have embraced new technology such as Zoom to enable conferences to go ahead via video platforms. Diary commitments have been honoured as far as possible by adapting to the current climate, we have successfully completed a number of JSM meetings which have been conducted and concluded via a combination of Zoom video for our “team” and telephone for Counsel to Counsel negotiations. We have also been involved in several multi-party mediations this week again successfully completed remotely proving settlements can be reached in this manner.
Interlocutory hearings and other shorter court appointments are proceeding by telephone and praise must be given to the courts to adapt further to the Government’s announcement on 23rd March. We are in discussions with the specialist courts about preserving more substantive hearings and collaborating on protocols and technology. Members of Kings Chambers have been at the forefront on negotiations with PINS to provide technological solutions to enable planning appeals to be heard. Chambers has successfully become a paperless business which can only benefit everyone in terms of efficiency and environmental impact.
Communication with clients has been more important than ever. Our clerking team have been talking to clients about changes to chambers working practices, how best to contact us, what we can do to help them to adapt, what the future may look like when government guidance and policy is changing daily, what technology were are utilising and most importantly relaying the message that we are very much open for business. I personally have spent a huge part of the last fortnight talking to our clients, working out solutions with them and reassuring them that we are one step ahead of developing events and can still offer a very high standard of service.
As yet we do not know how long it will be before we can leave our homes, return to work and resume our normal dailies routines with our families. When it happens a meal out with the family and a pint in the local pub will be extremely welcome. Until then we embrace our new reality of juggling work and children at home, hoping that the good weather holds and finding ways to be as productive as we can. I suspect that many of the changes that have been forced upon millions of working families in the UK in the past week will become permanent. Society will undoubtedly realise that the daily commute and hours spent travelling for meetings that could easily be done remotely is futile and that we can and should all work in much more time-efficient ways. We may well look back to pre-2020 and wonder why on earth we didn’t make these changes sooner.