Reuben Glynn, managing director of costs law specialists Partners in Costs, shares some of his firm’s experiences from the pandemic, changes they’ve made, and plans for moving forwards.
As for all firms, 2020 has been somewhat strange and difficult time for my firm, Partners in Costs. We have had to look at adapting our working patterns to ensure service for our clients and staff safety.
What are our plans for returning to the office?
At the moment, we have limited office working and we foresee this remaining the case until the end of December 2020 as a minimum. As a firm, we continue to see our staff’s health as a priority. Luckily, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, we had a system which allowed our fee-earning staff to work remotely. During lockdown, we’ve extended this to our operational teams to enable us to reduce staff working in the office – meaning less chance of spreading any potential infection. We continue to work with a skeleton operational team to ensure that our service to clients continues as expected.
What have we considered in our risk assessment?
As a firm, we continue to monitor government guidance. We allow for sanitising and checking that body temperatures remain below 38 degrees before people enter the office. In the office, we limit staff numbers to allow for social distancing. We provide staff with PPE and keep the premises cleaned regularly. The benefit of two entrances has allowed us to implement a one-way system.
We also continue to monitor the government’s guidance to update our risk assessment as required, providing regular updates to staff.
What changes have been made to accommodate court logistics?
We have found that the courts have very quickly adapted to working through electronic methods. These include conference calls and Skype meetings. Currently, we estimate approximately 70% of hearings are being held on conference calls and 30% by video link. Generally, the courts have taken on the role of organising such conferences using a system called “BT MeetMe”.
Through the whole pandemic, we’ve found that most parties have been acting in a reasonable manner to ensure matters can be dealt with proactively and safely. In fact, we have found hearings are now shorter in length than before.
Our communications with involved parties have remained very similar – using mainly email and telephone calls to limit paper communications. So far, this has meant we have not needed to attend any hearings in person – again, limiting the risk to staff health which remains our top priority. We would, however, take the view that encouraging parties to agree to video link does make hearings that little bit easier to get through.
How have we managed electronic bundles and the differences required by different courts?
Our clients have taken the responsibility of preparing and lodging e-bundles with the courts. In these times, the ideal is to move papers around as little as possible.
We’re finding that the e-bundles being produced are improving. Unlike before the pandemic, e-bundles are now the only papers accessible to the court, so the content has to be more specific. What’s inside the bundle is now more important than ever.
It’s not as easy as pulling papers to support your arguments out of the box or file you’ve taken with you to court, and we would encourage anyone to be conscious of this. If you’re unsure as to what to lodge within the e-bundles, ask for advice –it could impact on the ultimate decisions made.