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Trinity Batt explores how the legal industry have responded and adapted to the third national lockdown in the UK and the challenges that this has brought.
In 2020 the legal industry had to adapt to the circumstances which the first lockdown had introduced. Law firms largely appeared to be equipped for the shift to remote working with developed technological provisions in place. Moreover, the work of law firms was suited to remote working such that the question arose whether there would be a more permanent closure to office spaces which would extend beyond the current situation. On the other hand, the nature of the work involved in the sphere of the courts meant that a technological framework was not as easily applied; virtual court hearings occurred yet many cases were postponed and the resulting backlog is extensive. The second lockdown and the news of the third lockdown have brought about further difficulties for the legal industry in which both law firms and the courts have had to further adapt and in some ways differently than before.
The new lockdown has seen staff at law firms working from home however the offices are able to remain open if it is necessary for staff to work in the physical space. Before the previous lockdown, law firms were partially beginning to reopen again, although this was fairly limited and returns to the office were largely phased so as to ensure safety. In the previous lockdown, staff at law firms would similarly work at home and only be in the office when it was essential. The communication systems, cloud based systems and online tools which were implemented by law firms, especially last year, are continuing to be utilised now. Furthermore, the efficiency of working from home may play a large factor in what the future will look like for law firms.
The courts have experienced many challenges throughout the pandemic which has led to many delays in court hearings. The courts and tribunals are remaining open in this lockdown with social distancing in place however remote hearings are also occurring through the use of different technologies. The safety of the courts at this current time has been an issue of concern with the role of testing and the ability to ensure social distancing in Covid-secure buildings where hearings are occurring are particular areas of focus.
Naturally different types of work have been affected to varying degrees. Particularly, Family law saw an increase in work as the initial lockdown had been eased. During the lockdown the workload had slowed and it is suggested that the difficulties faced by families during this time has played a role in the resulting increase. Following the eventual end to the current lockdown it might be that a similar pattern is observed in Family law again. The lockdown and strain on the economy saw Corporate and Commercial law being heavily impacted by the initial lockdown and they were understood to be some of the most affected areas of law last year on account of the slowing of business and transactions . While there may have been an initial decrease in the workload for property law there is now an increase in work in this area which may be accounted for by both the stamp duty holiday as well as the decisions being made by people since most are currently working from home. The changing workloads of the different types of legal work have shown that the overall economic impact of the pandemic and this most recent lockdown on the legal sector are more likely to be clearly observed as more time passes. The individual trends in fluctuations of work are indicators of the direct impact the lockdown is having with respect to the specific circumstances it has brought about that are influencing the areas associated with these different types of legal work.
~ Trinity Batt, The Student Lawyer