Since Covid-19 restrictions began, firms, judges, court systems, and the entire legal sector has had to implement a range of adjustments to facilitate offsite working, remote staff meetings and remote hearings with clients.
With the crucial nature of services provided by the legal sector including advocacy and legal representation to children and vulnerable adults when important decisions are being made about them, halting proceedings during the restrictions is simply not possible. The children and young people in the legal system may be in care, have a disability or special needs, be subject to child protection plans, have mental health difficulties, or their parents might be separating.
Because of this, in early 2020 when the crisis took hold, IT teams were working around the clock to ensure that firms were able to continue to function efficiently by working remotely. In a sector where remote working had not previously been embraced on a wide scale, these were challenging times.
In this article, we look at some of the changes the legal sector have made, the lessons learned, and the efficiency gains made as a result.
What changes have been made?
Overall, the courts system has adapted well to the sudden shift in working practices and processes. Remote hearings have allowed court proceedings to continue taking place and to avoid unnecessary delays.
Courts have also provided a range of guidance on e-bundles and how legal firms and parties can submit documentation electronically to the Court via email.
Legal firms have had to source efficient e-bundle systems to provide the appropriate Court Bundles viacollection of electronic copies of documents for use at a remote court hearings.
Having access to the e-bundle system has itself saved legal firms significant costs on printing, paper and reducing the need to send large parcels in the post.
Given the sensitive nature of the documentation, legal firms have needed to move quickly to install secure VPNs on users’ laptops. This permitted access to case management systems, and has abled users to securely access case files and papers to allow business as usual.
Microsoft Teams and Skype
Hearings have been able to take place via Microsoft Teams and Skype, and remote hearings have been successful in the most part.
In addition to remote hearings, Microsoft Teams has also become more crucial than ever to ensure efficient communication between colleagues in the legal sector. Efficient deployments of the collaboration platform have ensured supervisions are still going ahead and to allowing work to continue.
Being able to speak and see to colleagues on a regular basis, as if we were in the office, has been a great advantage for the mental health of staff, as communication is still taking place and has avoided people becoming or feeling isolated.
The screen sharing function in Microsoft Teams has proven to be very helpful, and has made team working on cases easy and efficient. The platform has also abled users to have weekly and monthly meetings to keep updated with current cases, guidelines and with the company policies. Aside from working, Microsoft Teams has also been useful to welcoming new staff and say goodbye to any colleagues departing the company.
What does the future hold?
Having remote access to case management systems all day every day, has allowed more flexible working hours. This has also reduced travel time and travel costs and has allowed staff to start their day as soon as they are ready to.
With the success of these changes and the benefits they have brought about, many users have expressed a view to continue at least some degree of home working provision in the future. This could mean full remote working, or at the very least hybrid models that facilitate both home and office work.
Kaina Lomas, Paralegal
Legal representation of children in family law
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