Remote Working: A brief reflection on the tools of our trade
June 15, 2020
At 8.30pm on 23rd March 2020, Boris Johnson addressed the nation on the measures being introduced to combat the spread of COVID-19, “From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home”. This officially marked the start of lockdown.
Although the strictest of measures are now easing, and some courts are looking to resume some face to face hearings, the underlying message from the Government remains that people should stay at home as much as possible, work from home if you can and limit contact with other people. In a recent article in the Law Society Gazette, Matthew Scott, executive director of the Association of Consumer Support Organisations, was quoted as stating that it was anticipated “a return to anything resembling business as usual seems a fairly distant prospect”.
I would not wish to count the number of COVID-19 related emails that have landed in my Inbox since lockdown began. Most contained various forms of advice on how work may continue under these unusual conditions. Some may have already been using technology to assist their work; I am referring to early adopters of paperless working, those perhaps using a tablet with a pdf reader as a trial or conference bundle or a handwriting recognition app with stylus pen in place of a paper notepad. Beyond that, there has been a growing list of platforms and services to assist with remote working: Cloud Video Platform (CVP), Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, StarLeaf, BT MeetMe and LegalConnect. There are also various software applications that can be used for the preparation of electronic bundles, the most widely known perhaps being Adobe Acrobat Pro DC.
Also, and as someone who loves technology, I have seen, via social media, those who have been purchasing second (and third) screens, tablets, webcams, external microphones and wired or wireless headphones – all in a quest to create their most efficient and effective home office working environment.
Leaving to one side the conduct of trials, all of these tools may assist personal injury practitioners to improve the services we provide and now there is an opportunity to reflect on what we find works best.
Are face to face conferences with clients really necessary? Certainly, time and costs can be saved by holding meetings remotely, but there might be other advantages. In serious injury cases, the injured party may prefer a number of shorter meetings held remotely by video link to a lengthy conference in person in their home. Can any expert assessments be performed by remote means? Could certain medico-legal experts perform follow up assessments remotely by video link if they have held a recent consultation face to face? If so, steps such as these might lead to a reduction in waiting times and in turn reduce delay before a claim is at a stage when it can be resolved.
Rather than exchanging numerous emails with one’s instructing solicitor, going forward it might be more effective to book in short video conference calls during which a dynamic discussion of the issues can be undertaken. In fact, in most cases, a very early conference with the client will provide the opportunity for direct questions to be asked and answered and perhaps instil greater comfort in the client that all issues have been considered. In this way, and somewhat counter intuitively, we may find that working remotely results in us building a closer relationship with the client and those instructing us than when we have been free to move around, but largely only corresponded by emails or by the delivery of written advice. In fact, might we see the end of formal written advices when advice can be given swiftly and directly by telephone or video conference call with any matters arising being dealt with immediately?
We should also consider whether any claims can be dealt with away from the courts. Particularly, with the current backlogs. There are a number of formats of ADR which might be considered and Exchange Chambers has set up an Independent Adjudication Service which may be suitable for certain claims. Joint Settlement Meetings work relatively seamlessly by remote video link and it may be much simpler to find a mutually convenient time to hold one if it is by remote means – and more cost effective.
Remote working with its reliance on technology is by no means perfect and we all have examples of situations when we have been let down, but if and when everything works properly there are clear benefits.
Now is the opportunity to take stock of what technology works so that we can improve the service we provide in the future and decide upon our ‘new normal’.
 News article by John Hyde published in the Law Society Gazette on 2nd June 2020 “Business as usual for PI claims ‘a fairly distant prospect’”.
 This software is mentioned in Mr. Justice Mann’s guidance paper on PDF bundles https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/GENERAL-GUIDANCE-ON-PDF-BUNDLES-f-1.pdf
Simon Ross is listed as a Tier 1 leading junior for Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence Law in Legal 500 and is ranked in Chambers and Partners. He has sat as a Deputy District Judge for almost a decade. As a result of lockdown and the time saved in commuting, he has capacity for new instructions and can offer a quick turnaround. Please contact his clerk Ian Spencer with any enquiries.