QUARANTINE. Now, I am not going to lie. When I started the alphabet series, there were a couple of letters that I was thinking I would have a bit of a hard time with. ‘Q’ was one of those. I was in a bit of a quandary, quizzically questioning what quackery I could include. Then, lo and behold, we find ourselves in a bit of a ‘situation’ where there are ‘q’s of all sorts all over the place. (Loo roll, anyone?)
You’ll have seen all of the news reports by now about the dreaded COVID-19. For family lawyers, we have had guidance upon guidance about families that are separated moving children between houses, remote court hearings, no court hearings, places that are open, places that are closed, concerns about an increase in domestic abuse and worries over the protection of vulnerable children.
None of this is easy. None of it is planned for BUT I have great faith in the resilience, ingenuity and kindness of fellow humans. Call me naïve but I am definitely a glass half full/of course we can do the show here sort of person.
It’s been odd for me too because, actually, (and I say this quietly for fear of being annoying) I have not seen any change to the way I am working other than not having to go to court hearings. I’ve seen an article where a litigant said that they thought a video hearing was no replacement for the solemnity of the court room and in some cases, I am sure that is right. On the other hand, in a lot of the family litigation work we do, the issues dealt with at a court hearing could easily be dealt with in a phone or video hearing. The consequences are costs savings to the litigant. The time spent in pre-hearing phone calls plus the phone hearing itself are a lot less than travelling to court, waiting – where a hearing rarely starts on time (sometimes for very good reasons to allow people to negotiate) and then travelling back.
I am not saying it will work with everything but it is another tool in the kit for getting the court backlog down and moving things along whilst we are a bit stuck, as we are. It gives us options and opens news ways of thinking and working.
So, what if you are someone who needs advice? Well, I am one of the family law solicitors open for new business and there are others too.
What if you have a court hearing coming up? If you have a solicitor, they will guide you through. If you don’t have a solicitor, you will get instructions from the court about where to phone, when and any code to key in.
For all people taking part in phone or virtual hearings, there are a myriad of hints and tips about how to do it well. Here are my top five:
- Make sure you are in a room on your own. For a court hearing, you will be asked to confirm that there is no-one else in the room.
- Makes sure you have a good signal or WiFi band so you don’t get disconnected.
- If you have headphones and a microphone (like your headphones for your phone for example) use them. It cuts down on background noise.
- Make sure you have a pen and paper handy to make notes for yourself – either for something you want to say or something you need to do.
- If you are doing a video hearing, check your set up before you begin. Think about the background. You can use virtual backgrounds or blur the background in Teams and Skype for Business. Zoom allows you to upload a screen. Makes sure it is a business one or something neutral – not something like The Simpsons or Disney Princess.
There are other tips around too – about ‘etiquette’ and not speaking over one another as it freeze the screen, muting the microphone unless you are speaking, making sure the dog/cat/children are not going to come bursting in – nor a flat mate/partner in their underpants. Those above are my essentials.
All of this is new and everyone is just trying to do the best they can. There are many solicitors and barristers like me who love the technology and have been using it for a while. There are others taking a little time to catch up.
In the meantime, the legal world and the family court continues. It’s a learning curve for sure but let’s all dig in and try our best to be respectful and tolerant.
As they said in High School Musical ‘We’re all in this together’.