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COVID-19 and Family Law

Podcast Episode by Pearsons Lawyers
11 May 2021

(Transcription)

Leanne Abela:
Hello, I’m Leanne Abela.

Joe Schepis:
And I’m Joe Schepis.

Leanne Abela:
And welcome to Pearsons Family Law podcasts.

Joe Schepis:
There’s another session today. We’re going to talk about COVID-19, and the impact that it has had on the way that we practice family law. In relation to both court proceedings and other matters around court proceedings like negotiations and mediations.

Leanne Abela:
And I guess also, Joe, on how we now interface with clients that’s changed too. Previously before COVID we would see clients face to face and there would be a limited number of telephone appointments. Well, as a result of COVID restrictions, although we were in the office, the clients were not allowed to come and visit us in the office. And so, we have now become accustomed to, and it works really well, having clients for telephone appointments. Both initially for their first free appointment and follow up appointments. And so, we found a way of practicing really efficiently and cost effectively for the clients whereby the initial appointment or follow-up appointments are by telephone, but at allocated times with any one of our solicitors, you and me included, Joe.

Joe Schepis:
Yeah.

Leanne Abela:
Or they can come in now if they want to, but a lot of clients have opted not to come in. A lot of clients have opted to see us only if they have to. But they’re happy to be at work in their lunch hour, or at home with their kids, or doing whatever they’re doing, and speaking to us by telephone.

Joe Schepis:
Yeah, I think that the world has changed. I think people have realized that there is a different way of doing things. And certainly I think the clients are really enjoying the freedom, if I can put it that way. I’m not having to come in and see the lawyer face-to-face and spending the time in traffic, which has becoming horrendous as we hear on the news. But they can just get on the phone, either from work or from home, wherever they might be. At the playground, wherever they might be, and to have their consultation with their solicitor by telephone.

Joe Schepis:
But also, in relation to court, we’ve saved a lot of time on the road, parking in the city, dealing with crowds. Now as you’ve explained because of COVID-19, we were prohibited from going to court. But the court kept on working, kept on hearing cases. And matters kept on getting listed. And the court list, luckily for us and for our clients, was able to keep rolling.

Leanne Abela:
In fact, the family court was one of the first courts to embrace Microsoft Teams.

Joe Schepis:
Yep.

Leanne Abela:
And to be up and running.

Joe Schepis:
Yeah. And it overloaded, and the system crashed initially, because Microsoft Teams obviously didn’t cater for such a huge demand initially.

Leanne Abela:
Yeah. The volume was horrendous, wasn’t it?

Joe Schepis:
But the court system was able to adapt, and judges were sitting at home, and barristers in their chambers or at home. And we were at our office, and clients at their homes, and trials were able to be managed, and organized, and up and running by Microsoft Teams. And we discovered that there’s a different way of doing the same thing that we did for 30, 40 years, have face to face, we could do it remotely.

Leanne Abela:
So, because the court has had a taste of that, the court’s really keen to be flexible now. And you have some judges who really want to be in the courtroom and have their cases, particularly, trials running in a courtroom, or contested hearings. And there are some judges who are still doing their cases remotely. So, what you have now is the blend. The blend of Microsoft Teams doing it remotely. But you also have the barristers, solicitors and judges hearing the matter in court. Limited numbers, limited ability to bring support people to court now, and the requirement to stay on a particular floor and not come to court, unless it’s your case. So, that’s been quite an interesting shift. And the other part of it is for those clients who’ve wanted to, they have been able to come to our office when their case is on, Joe.

Joe Schepis:
Yeah.

Leanne Abela:
And that’s been a real benefit for clients. They have been able to use the facilities in our boardroom, which we have set up with sneeze screens.

Joe Schepis:
Sanitizers.

Leanne Abela:
Sanitizers, social distancing because of the size of the boardroom. So, what we have been able to do during COVID, and continuing, is conduct court cases and representing our clients from our boardroom. We have been able to have witnesses give evidence from our boardroom and in breakout rooms. We’ve been able to conduct mediations and conciliations in our boardroom by having the mediators is in our office. They’ve had no problems coming to our office and conducting it that way via Zoom with the other party, while our clients be in the office, or having a mediator on Zoom. But having our client with us. Most of our clients, I imagine yours are the same as mine, Joe, they want to be supported by being present with us on those very important dates in their court calendar. Mediations, conciliations, court cases. Whilst they’re happy to do all the prep remotely, they really want to be with us for those events.

Joe Schepis:
Yeah. And we give them the choice, obviously, the clients that do want to come in and be there and be supported. They come in and we’ve got plenty of room to cater for that. And I think the clients have enjoyed that ability too. If they don’t choose to, to remain remotely, they feel that, that’s what they want to do. Or if they want to come in and be supported to come in, we give them that option. And I think they’re lucky to have that option and to be able to choose.

Leanne Abela:
Very unique for us. It’s been terrific.

Joe Schepis:
And also, with that, obviously, the uploading of e-briefs to the barristers and to the mediators. To have sharing of documents, the whole facilitating and discovery, all those sorts of aspects of a case have moved ahead leaps and bounds thanks to COVID. We’ve all worked out that there’s a different way of achieving the same result.

Leanne Abela:
So, our team of 20 lawyers… Almost 20, 19 lawyers, has been able to adjust and we’re quite agile. And we have continued to do our training with the Victorian Bar, with the judicial bench when they’ve provided training on what to be done and how to best represent our clients using Microsoft Teams. And that’s been really useful. We’ve all participated in that. We’ve continued with our own internal training, which is our book club on cases, interesting articles, our regular solicitors meetings. So, we have continued to stay ahead of the game, and be absolutely ready, and able to represent clients, and to continue with our expertise during COVID. It really has not disadvantaged our clients in any way.

Joe Schepis:
No, I think that we’ve been very lucky like that. We’ve been very proactive to make sure that we stay on board with what’s happening. And make sure that we’re up there at the forefront of all the technology.

Leanne Abela:
Definitely. Clients have got the benefit of all of that.

Joe Schepis:
Yeah. And I think we’ve had the benefit, and they’ve had the benefit as a result as well.

Leanne Abela:
Yeah. And our collegiality we’ve been able to remain collegiate during the COVID-19, because we have been present with each other. And that’s been a real benefit for the clients.

Joe Schepis:
Absolutely. 100%.

Leanne Abela:
So, if you’ve got any inquiries that you want to make and have put them on a hold during COVID because you thought that you needed to, now’s the time to make contact with our Pearsons team. And you can either have a face to face at any one of our 14 offices. Or you can have telephone inquiry at any time, including our night service, which we offer on a Wednesday evening by telephone. All you need to do is contact us. Don’t you, Joe?

Joe Schepis:
Yes. For your free consultation call Pearsons on 1300 699 688. And thank you for listening.

Leanne Abela:
Thank you.

Pearsons Family Lawyers

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