how covid-19 is affecting women in family law

 How is COVID-19 Affecting Women in Family Law?

This is a new series of blogs by a range of women across the family justice system, providing an insight into the impact of coronavirus on women in family law.

2nd April 2020 –Shaili Desai

Shaili Desai, trainee solicitor at Streeter Marshall LLP, tells Women in Family Law about the anxieties of being furloughed as a result of COVID-19.

Having been a family paralegal for nearly two years, I was thrilled, to say the least, when I received the email confirming a noted local firm would love to have me on board as their new trainee. More than that, they would be willing to consider invoking ‘time to count’ for me, thereby reducing my training period to a year and half, rather than the standard two years. Little did I know that the opportunity to commence training in mid-March 2020, and to potentially qualify by next September, would all be disrupted by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These unprecedented times have seen a hit to many businesses, and law firms are no exception. The nation has been told to “stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives” and thus law firms are struggling to maintain a regular influx of new client enquiries. The inconveniences of working from home, technical and otherwise, have put a temporary strain on firms’ ability to offer comprehensive training to aspiring solicitors like myself.

It is for these reasons that I have been placed on an interim period of leave, also known as furlough leave, with the hope that I can officially commence my training contact when it is safe and viable to do so. I am more than thankful to my firm who have been nothing but supportive and encouraging through this time by offering a financial package over the government’s promised contribution, regularly keeping in touch with me and reassessing the situation on a weekly basis.

The Challenge of Productivity

The struggle I am currently facing is how to spend my time productively now that I am not working. I have found a few things which have kept me going that may be useful to others in my position:

  • Finding online webinars on the areas of family law that I find the trickiest to wrap my head around. This is especially useful in understanding financial remedy cases which deal with high net worth pension provisions, or multi-faceted business interests or income streams.
  • Keeping up to date with case law. Whilst the outbreak of COVID-19 has limited the number of in-person hearings, there are still several being undertaken remotely.
  • Keeping an eye out on the government’s and the judiciary’s guidelines on family law issues regarding COVID-19. Almost daily there are new publications or statements released on websites such as The Law Society Gazette, Legal Cheek, Family Law Weekly and other smaller blogs I find now and again from perusing my LinkedIn and Twitter feed. Of particular interest to me is a daily Q&A session run by Laura Naser of Pennington Manches Cooper LLP through her Instagram page “@thefamilylawyer” where she brings on experts in family law to comment on how COVID-19 is affecting the field. For example, how child contact arrangements can be handled in light of the ‘stay at home’ order, a session which featured WiFL’s very own Hannah Markham QC.
  • Lastly, I am using this time to work on my personal goals, such as taking up yoga, continuing my passion for dance and revitalising my interest in creative writing.

I am one of many legal professionals who have been placed on furlough leave and it can be a daunting and anxious time for anyone. I am grateful for the support of my firm and family and it is not hard to imagine that someone in my position may not have such a strong support unit. My only advice would be to keep positive and stay focused. Whilst I may qualify later than expected, I am aiming to use this time to my advantage so that I can become a better lawyer upon qualification.

28th March 2020 – Chloe Lee’s Experience

Chloe Lee, pupil barrister at Spire Barristers, describes her experience of approaching second six whilst in the midst of a global pandemic.

In the past week we have all seen a huge change in the way that the family justice system is operating due to the COVID-19 crisis. The family justice system is now, in large, operating remotely and live court-based hearings are confined only to exceptional circumstances.

In the final days of my first-six I have attended hearings remotely via telephone and Skype. This is a completely new way of working for many, myself included. For the most part, these hearings have worked well and ran smoothly, but I have seen some teething problems. The situation is changing rapidly, and it is hard for everyone to keep up. It will take some time for us all to adapt to this new working environment.

Going into second six is daunting at the best of times, but during this global pandemic things feel uncertain and strange. As I approach second six I have a whole new set of worries I didn’t have just seven days ago. Will my internet be fast enough? What if my phone cuts out? Is my working space appropriate?

Adapting to New Technology and Situations

How Covid-19 is Affecting Women in Family Law

In preparation for my first week I have downloaded a number of video conferencing applications including Skype, Microsoft Teams and Zoom and I am frantically trying to get familiar with each programme. I am also trying to get up to speed with paperless working and to do so effectively I will probably have to purchase a second device.

Many barristers have said there has been a decrease in the level of work as hearings are being adjourned. It is a concern that I may have an emptier diary than I would have done if I had started last month, which will inevitably impact my level of income. Another concern is that I won’t have the opportunity to start in the same way many others have – “on my feet” in court. Instead, my first case will likely be over the phone or via Skype. However, I know I’m not alone in this and I know it won’t be forever.

I am extremely luckily to have a great support network around me. I’m having regular remote contact with my supervisor, co-pupils and other members of chambers, who are always available and willing to help no matter what. Circuit have also determined that no pupils are to attend court or conferences in person for the foreseeable future. My chambers have adopted this position and therefore this minimises the risks to my health. I’m also amazed by our clerks and staff, who have worked tirelessly to get us all set up for remote working.

Even during times of uncertainty, it is important to think what positives this change could bring. Whilst I don’t know what impact Covid-19 will have on my future at the Bar, what I can say is once this is all over there is likely to be a huge shift in how family cases are dealt with on a daily basis. Legal professionals and the courts are going to become familiar with the brilliant technology that is available and new models of working will materialise. This, I think, will be a change for the better.

How Are You Adjusting?

How has COVID-19 impacted your practice? If you’re interested in writing a blog for Women in Family Law, please email us.

If you enjoyed this, you may also enjoy our Tips to Manage the Covid-19 Crisis.

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