Lawyers are nothing if not adaptable. On 27 February my chambers purchased additional hand sanitisers and issued advice about travel abroad. By Monday 23 March all barristers and staff had moved entirely to home working and we had adapted our management systems to cope with that massive change. That very evening the Prime Minister made his dramatic announcement of a complete lock down. And now we have to adapt again.
Already the barristers at Kings Chambers are becoming adept at video conferencing and Zoom meetings. Our planning team have been working with No 5 Chambers, ordinarily a rival, to present a way in which planning inquiries can be held remotely. We have worked collaboratively to conduct hearings, ADRs and client conferences without leaving the house.
We have set up a new website – Law in the Time of Corona – run by the indefatigable Gordon Exall, pulling together resources and advice for lawyers and businesses, and our wellbeing team has initiated Zoom groups for those in Chambers who live alone, or have health issues, or are trying to manage work and young children under lockdown.
Let’s be honest, the situation is a little bit frightening. But it would be defeatist and an abrogation of responsibility to respond by simply closing down. We have to work together to keep the justice system functioning as best as can be. For civil lawyers, like those at Kings Chambers, that may be more feasible, than for our colleagues who practise criminal law. But all lawyers, support staff, judges and court administrators, have to be imaginative and flexible in the weeks ahead.
When we look back on this crisis, the legal profession will have learned many lessons about planning for risk, financial resilience, and the use of technology. But what I hope we will also have learned is the value of collaboration and solidarity.
I remember being asked in my pupillage interview whether the Bar would survive another ten years. That was 31 years ago and the Bar has indeed survived by constantly adapting to changing circumstances. Never have the changes been so sudden and far-reaching as they are now, but we will adapt, we will learn, and we will emerge wiser and fitter to adapt to the challenges that will follow.
Head of Chambers