Stephen Loxton explains our planning for the coronovirus crisis and the steps we have taken to ensure that our staff, clients and barristers are protected and still able to continue
The word unprecedented has been used many times when describing recent events and the monumental changes that we have been forced to adapt to in recent days. Indeed it is a word that one of chambers largest clients and I have banned each other from uttering in conversation due to its repeated use. Whichever words you choose to use, there is no doubt that these will be the most challenging times that many of us will face during our professional lives. These are clearly unsettling times for everyone within our industry and of course the nation as a whole. Personally we all worry for our loved ones and are incredibly grateful for the dedication and bravery of our medical professionals.
Identifying the threat
Thankfully, at Kings Chambers we identified the threat to our business as early as mid Feb 2020 when there were quiet alarms sounding of the potential disruption to daily life if this virus spread throughout Europe as it had during January in China. At this point we started scenario planning for such events as school closures, home working and perhaps even the closure of our premises and even the courts. All of which have come to pass (partial court closures to date admittedly). This scenario planning gave us time to ensure that all members and staff could work effectively from home and allowed us to look at what technologies might assist us in achieving this.
The safety of our staff and clients
The priority was and still is protecting the welfare of all members of staff whilst providing a seamless level of service externally to our clients and internally to our Barristers. All this whilst ensuring that we do not in any way compromise the safety of clients or Counsel. For example we represent many clients that are victims of mesothelioma that are undergoing treatment that leaves them with compromised immune systems. Clearly we could not allow these clients to be exposed to this virus via contact with their Counsel. This meant virtual meetings with such clients weeks before anyone was even considering social distancing.
For many of us remote working is second nature. For others it is a source of anxiety and stress. Supporting members of staff and Barristers in making the switch to home working has been a key element of recent weeks as has reassuring many members of chambers that they can still work and represent their clients effectively from home. We have embraced new technology which have allowed conferences to go ahead via video platforms such as Zoom. JSM dates have all been maintained and several this week have successfully concluded via a combination of Zoom video for our “team” and telephone for Counsel to Counsel negotiations. Indeed we have been involved in several multi-party mediations this week that have happened remotely and led to settlements. Feedback from clients has been excellent. Interlocutory hearings and other shorter court appointments are proceeding. We are in discussions with the specialist courts about preserving more substantive hearings and collaborating on protocols and technology. Members of Kings Chambers have been at the forefront on negotiations with PINS to provide technological solutions to enable planning appeals to be heard. Chambers has successfully become a paperless business which can only benefit everyone in terms of efficiency and environmental impact.
Communications with clients
Communication with clients has been more important than ever. Talking to them about changes to chambers working practices, how best to contact us, what we can do to help them to adapt, what the future may look like when government guidance and policy is changing daily, what technology were are utilising and most importantly the message that we are very much open for business. I personally have spent a huge part of the last fortnight talking to our clients, working out solutions with them and reassuring them that we are one step ahead of developing events and can still offer a very high standard of service.
Staying open, staying in business and looking to the future
As yet we do not know how long it will be before we can leave our homes, return to work or return to a normal life. When it happens a meal out with the family and a pint in the local pub will be extremely welcome. Until then we embrace our new reality of juggling work and children at home, hoping that the good weather holds and finding ways to be as productive as we can. I suspect that many of the changes that have been forced upon millions of working families in the UK in the past week will become permanent. Society will undoubtedly realise that the daily commute and hours spent travelling for meetings that could easily be done remotely is futile and that we can and should all work in much more time efficient ways. We may well look back to pre-2020 and wonder why on earth we didn’t make these changes sooner.