I was two weeks in to my second seat with the Family and Divorce team at Kingsley Napley when the government announced lockdown measures to combat the COVID-19 crisis. I had been warmly welcomed into the team, was fortunate enough to experience one court hearing actually in a court building and was then promptly sent home to work for the foreseeable future.
As a trainee, working from home is something I have not done very often, and I was slightly concerned that going from sharing an office with my supervisor and learning ‘through osmosis’ from others in the team to being on my own at home would negatively impact my training experience. However, I soon realised I had nothing to worry about; on both a department level and a firm-wide level, the approach has been consistent and positive.
The family department has team catch ups via Skype every Monday morning and Wednesday afternoon where we do the usual workload update and hear how everyone is getting on. There is usually at least one ‘accidental’ appearance from someone’s dog, cat, child or husband, with varying degrees of disruption and amusement. I have actually found the frequency of video call catch ups a really useful tool in getting to know everyone in the department, and haven’t felt less a part of the team as a result of conversations being online rather than in person. I also have regular catch ups with my trainee supervisor, which has been really important for me.
There is also a daily email that goes to everyone in the firm, covering the government update from that day as well as stories and pictures from people around the firm showing what they are up to during lockdown. Our HR team have also put together special guidance and links to support relating to mental health and wellbeing, which are all accessible on a central hub. These include tips for staying mentally well, working from home effectively and in an environmentally conscious way and details of the usual yoga and Pilates sessions available to all firm members, which are now being held on Skype or Zoom. Our employment and regulatory teams have together created a really useful set of FAQs about working remotely and the supervision of trainee solicitors which has been reassuring for the trainee cohort here to read.
The team have made a real effort to get me involved with various different matters, and I have been able to get experience of everything I would have done had we been in the office. For example, I have attended new client meetings (by telephone and Skype) and taken attendance notes, attended hearings and conferences with counsel and have had good exposure to matters relating to both finance and children proceedings. I have also completed my Professional Skills Elective which was delivered via an online learning platform and worked very well; as well as attending internal training sessions, for example on legal research tools, marketing skills and electronic bundling. I have also attended seminars involving individuals from various sets of chambers, which has been a good way of getting to know others in the family law world.
There has been a range of experience of remote hearings across the team, and usually part of the regular Skype catch ups will be dedicated to feeding back on things that worked well (and not so well!). Within the department we have had people attending, for example, a First Hearing and Dispute Resolution Appointment, an emergency interim hearing and a Directions Hearing all via telephone; private Financial Dispute Resolution hearings and arbitrations via Zoom and Skype; and a Directions Hearing in financial remedy proceedings via Lifesize. I have been lucky enough to sit in on several of these to take attendance notes, and it has been really interesting to see how all the parties involved deal with the different challenges posed by a remote set up. There are certainly pros and cons to holding hearings remotely, but I have been impressed with the creativity and dedication to ensuring hearings can go ahead, and the fact that clients can rely on the courts to continue to deal with their matters is essential.
Outside of work, Kingsley Napley is a very sociable and friendly firm, and lockdown hasn’t changed that! Our annual charity quiz was due to be held a few weeks ago, and though it had to be postponed, we held the quiz in our department via Zoom - we split into teams and had separate WhatsApp groups to discuss the answers! Each department that took part ‘virtually’ was asked to make a donation to the charity of their choice in return for the answers, and this is just one of the ways the firm has been able to maintain its commitment to giving back to the community during this difficult time. The co-heads of our Charities and Communities Committee have produced an update on how we are helping various charities and the local community during the COVID-19 crisis, which you can read here. The commitment to responsible business was one of the main things that attracted me to Kingsley Napley and I am very proud to work for a firm that delivers positive impact for members, clients, the environment and local community alike.
We also have team drinks via Skype on a Friday to wind down and catch up at the end of the week. It’s a really lovely opportunity to chat to everyone in a social setting, and perhaps ‘see’ people you have not happened to work with during the week. As a trainee, this has been really important for me as I’ve not been able to have the usual chats whilst making a cup of tea or waiting at the printer that would ordinarily help me get to know everyone. As well mixing up these social occasions with the charity quiz, we also held a ‘virtual murder mystery party’ via Zoom, which the whole team got involved with. There were some fantastic outfits and acting skills on show; though none of us worked out who the murderer was (perhaps our criminal litigation team would have had more luck!) I’ve also made sure I keep in touch with colleagues from other departments who I would usually see and make sure that we still have lunch or coffee but over Skype instead. The trainees are also all keeping in touch with each other via Skype and WhatsApp and there is a trainee quiz coming up in the near future to keep us entertained as well!
I feel very fortunate to work at a firm where a collaborative and supportive working environment is at the very core of what we do, as it has meant the move to working remotely has not been as difficult and lonely as it might have otherwise been. But as much as I’ve enjoyed getting to know the team virtually (as well as their partners, children and pets in some cases), I can’t pretend I won’t be glad to get back into the office for a more traditional remainder of my training contract - after all, people are at the root of family law and though virtual communication and hearings are excellent short term solutions, human face to face interaction really can’t be beaten. So whilst I am very grateful for my current situation, I look forward to returning to the Kingsley Napley offices and seeing everyone; ‘interesting’ hairstyles, massively improved general knowledge, newfound yoga expertise and all.
This blog was first published by Women in Family Law on 7 May 2020 as part of their series titled "How is COVID-19 affecting women in family law?". Lucy was also interviewed about her experience by Women in Family Law on their Instagram Live on 11 May 2020.
You may be interested in reading our other blogs about some of the challenges families and separating couples are experiencing in the face of the current crisis. See also our wider range of coronavirus blogs for these and other topics.
If you have any questions about alternative dispute resolution options during this time, please contact a member of our team of family and divorce lawyers or click here to get started online and find out where you stand.
About the author
Lucy Bluck is a trainee solicitor at Kingsley Napley. She is currently in her second seat in the family and divorce team, where she assists with cases involving finance and children proceedings.