NSW lawyers keen to keep COVID changes to courts and justice system

The vast majority of lawyers who took part in exclusive research commissioned by the Law Society of NSW hope that many of the changes to legal practice and the justice system, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, will remain a permanent part of their practice. professional life. .

Asked about their views on the impact of COVID-related changes on the integrity of the justice system, less than a quarter of respondents (22%) believe the changes have had a negative impact overall.

Almost 1,500 NSW lawyers took part in the Law Society’s online survey from mid-July 2021 to early August 2021, when the state was experiencing its second major lockdown.

The questions focused on experiences of COVID-19-related changes from four perspectives: litigation work, advisory/transactional work, legal workplaces, and the justice system as a whole.

The findings were published in a report titled “A Fair Post-COVID Justice System: Seeking Member Input.”

Research confirms that the changes enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling the administration of justice remotely, have presented challenges to legal practitioners as they manage their practice, interact with colleagues, manage customer relations and carry out their daily tasks. – daytime work.

However, very few are calling for an urgent restoration to pre-COVID status.

Quantitative data and in-depth research insights revealed that lawyers value the benefits that remote delivery of legal proceedings has brought to their legal practice and, overall, believe these outweigh the disadvantages. .

Law Society of NSW President Joanne van der Plaat said the Law Society had commissioned the research with the aim of better understanding how COVID-related changes have impacted lawyers in NSW and to what extent they supported these changes by remaining permanent. part of their professional life.

“COVID-related changes have forced legal practitioners to change the way they practice law while navigating new realities in their work situation,” Ms. van der Plaat said. “As spokespersons for NSW lawyers, we thought it was important to consider to what extent the changes brought about by COVID-19 should be temporary or should be retained – even where it is possible to return to practices. pre-COVID.”

“The results of this research will also shape our policy submissions and inform the conversations we will continue to have with the courts and government, on behalf of the profession, as we embark on our path to recovery from the pandemic. “

Some of the key findings include:

  • Modified processes due to the COVID-19 pandemic were generally easy for respondents to adapt, and even more so in the area of ​​advisory/transactional work. The vast majority of the changes were considered to have a positive impact, with respondents welcoming the ability to keep them so they could choose to use them in certain circumstances.
  • Across all processes, the particular benefits of the changes have included clear time savings (for lawyers, clients and other parties), cost savings and accessibility/flexibility benefits due to the minimization or elimination of travel requirements (which is particularly beneficial for those living in remote areas or with mobility issues who have traditionally struggled to meet and attend court) and access to Justice.
  • In litigation, the notable exception was remote cross-examination of witnesses (55% of respondents saying it was difficult or very difficult to adapt to this change) and remote hearings with an unrepresented party (41 %).
  • In advisory and transactional work, the difficult change to adapt to was participating in mediation or other alternative dispute resolution through an audio-visual or voice link only – 27% of respondents indicated that the change had been difficult.
  • The majority of respondents would like to see a permanent move towards the ability to make requests or file documents on behalf of a client via an online platform.
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