Monday 23 March 2020. This was the day that the lives of many changed. I had set out on the morning by train to Manchester County Court for a hearing which was listed on Courtserve as a CMC in a Landlord and Tenant matter. I received the instructions on the previous Friday but when I say instructions, it was simply a phone call with some papers from a previous hearing. My papers lacked actual instructions and I spent the weekend trying to seek instructions and additional papers to no avail.
I reached the Court at around 9.30am and asked the Usher to see the Court file due to my lack of papers. Ultimately, I received a set of bizarre instructions to seek a possession order based on papers that had apparently been filed and figures for which I had no evidence of.
The District Judge confirmed there was no defence filed which was not expected (by me) given the listing for a CMC and so I sought the possession order but to no avail. The Court ordered that the defendant be given an opportunity to file a defence and if they failed to do so, the next hearing (due to take place on the next available date after 6 weeks) may result in a possession order being made. That was my job done (albeit not as ultimately instructed) and after finalising my report and reporting to the client, I headed back to the office. 6 weeks more like 6 months in that particular case I expect.
This was the day that normal Court life and the whole legal landscape was to change.
I am one of the lucky ones. The majority of my legal work is desk work. The CMC was my 289th hearing. I had at this point advocated an average of 57 hearings a year (since 2015).
Not so lucky are those advocates who turned up to Court day-in and day-out working for the likes of LPC Law, Kearns, Quest, Ashley Taylors, Jeffrey’s and any other advocate agency that I have not heard of. I am talking about advocates who had completed the LPC or BPTC and who set out to gain that advocacy experience for their prospective pupillage applications. It is their lives that have changed significantly. Those advocates (that I knew) did 5-days a week, carrying out multiple (some up to 10) hearings a day.
My next hearing after the start of Lockdown One came by way of a telephone hearing four months after my last. Potentially out of practice. it was, in a way, like riding a bike. I say I was lucky. I was. My practice had become a lot busier; I was able to continue practicing the law as clearly, I was not reliant upon advocacy as a full-time occupation. It was so busy, I had to take on staff. Since 24 July 2020, I have completed 29 hearings. This was a reduction of 21% on average.
The way hearings are conducted has changed. Looking back, I cannot remember many hearings taking place remotely pre-lockdown. The pressure and stress of travelling round the country has significantly reduced. I do however miss the trips to London where I would combine attendance at hearings with meetings of [potential] clients and colleagues. I certainly do not miss the early starts for travel to the likes of Grimsby, West Cumbria or Carlisle. However, I have since remotely visited Courts for the first time – Huddersfield, Chesterfield, Milton Keynes and Port Talbot. The split of remote vs in person is now 44% / 56% which is a stark difference to pre-Lockdown.
There is however a different type of pressure added to hearings in some Courts which are taking place in person. There is the potential of contracting COVID or even unknowingly passing it. I’ve attended Manchester, Prestatyn, Liverpool and Chester in person. Getting through security takes longer (naturally) and in Chester (as far as I have experienced for my 3 visits), you must wait in the car park until around 15 minutes before your scheduled hearing and after the hearing, must leave the Court building straight away. Luckily, it has not rained. At Liverpool, I have experienced no-entry for 10am hearings until 9.40am. This puts an added pressure on the advocate as the pre-hearing conference time has reduced (thus it is more vital that full instructions and issues are dealt with in the days before – thinking back to 23 March 2020).
I turn back and must remember our full-time advocate colleagues. They have had the biggest impact on their lives. Their full-time incomes have diminished, and I can truly hope many have found alternative sources of income. But for those full-time advocates who are returning to Courts, there is no longer the same support network as there was. It is no longer the case where you can have a good face-to-face chat in the advocates’ room or waiting area with your colleagues. Being at Liverpool and Manchester is clear evidence of this. It has been like a ghost-town. If you have not had or found an alternative to life as an advocate and are returning to full-time advocacy. I salute you. I wish you well. I am sure many of our legal community will agree with me when I say, just get in touch if you need any support. We are here for you.
White Collar Legal
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