In a digital age where we increasingly rely on electronic communication, the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 have highlighted how much we still rely upon interpersonal, face to face contact. This remains true of most aspects of our lives and it is certainly the case when it comes to the justice system.
The legal process was once very much a paper driven operation where forests worth of trees were employed in the preparation in briefs, the copying of medical records, and the storing of client files.
In recent years, more and more of this paper-based communication has become digital. Email communication has largely replaced the traditional letter sent by post, and cloud computing has provided even greater capacity to transmit and store documents in large quantities. Some courts provide an on-line filing service, and video conferencing has become more and more prevalent.
We at vbr Lawyers are no exception – independently of COVID we have been transitioning towards a “paperless” office which we expect will create efficiencies for us and our clients.
But despite all this, there still remains a significant portion of legal work that involves face to face communication, such as client meetings, court appearances, meetings with witnesses and negotiation meetings. For all of the ways it has impacted our lives, technology hasn’t quite yet found a way to replace all the little nuances that are so much a part of in-person communication.
In certain areas, such as criminal law, a great deal of the work is face to face, as court appearances at trials, mentions and bail applications are the central activities engaged in by criminal lawyers, along with all of the meetings with clients and witnesses that are required.
In the field of our expertise of personal injury compensation claims, court appearances are less common, because the vast majority of claims settle by negotiation. Much of our work and our skill lies in the documenting of claims – notifying claims to insurers, the obtaining of expert medical reports, and written advice to our clients. A significant need for face to face communication nevertheless remains in the form of negotiating claims. In fact in three main areas of injury compensation – Work Injuries, Motor Vehicle Accident injuries, and Occupier Liability injuries, it is a legal requirement that the parties and their legal representatives meet in person to discuss settlement of the claim before any court process is commenced.
Even these interpersonal dealings will now be limited by the COVID-19 restrictions for the foreseeable future, but along with the courts, insurers and other law firms, we will continue to find ways to advance our clients’ cases through these challenges.
We have started conducting most of our client interviews by telephone, Skype and WhatsApp. In terms of the continuation of claims, insurers are already implementing negotiation meetings by teleconference to remove the necessity of in-person meetings.
WorkCover Queensland has indicated that it will adopt a flexible approach to time limits and timeframes, to cope with the restrictions imposed by the virus.
For our own part, we are fully operational and will continue to be so, with staff working from home if necessary.
At the time of writing, the courts continue to operate in accordance with the protocols, so a person need only absent themselves from the court if they have been in close contact with a confirmed case of the virus.
So despite the challenges thrown up by COVID-19, the legal system continues to function, we at vbr continue to operate, and we will continue to progress our client’s claims until justice is done.
This blog was written by John Vandeleur, Legal Practitioner Director
Phone: 07 3379 2513 or Toll Free 1800 316 716