Life As A Barrister During Covid-19 – Sima Najma

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Life As A Barrister During Covid-19

It’s a year now since Covid-19 became the number one concern of almost everyone worldwide. It’s had an unimaginable effect on our lives, in every conceivable way. Families have been separated as people have had to shelter at home, while the lockdowns also caused the rest of us to stay in our homes for unprecedented periods of time throughout this year.

I’m one of the lucky ones whose job has been able to continue. Against a backdrop of so much unemployment and hardship, I absolutely can’t complain about how the year’s been. But my job, like almost everyone else’s this year, has quite definitely changed and, in some ways, will probably never be the same again.

Like many other people, my biggest challenge this year has been adapting to both working remotely myself, and to how that remote working has changed the way family law hearings are conducted. It was tremendously hard to get used to not having client conferences in person, and to not being in the courtroom addressing judges in person. 

I don’t know how any of us would have managed this year without the conferencing technology we now have – even just a few years ago, it would have been almost impossible to survive as the technology wouldn’t have been there.

Barristers as a whole are probably forgotten casualties of this pandemic, in an odd sort of way. There’s been a massive increase in mental health problems within our industry due to the financial pressures of job losses within our ranks due to Covid.

It’s not going to really be advertised or talked about as a problem though, because Barristers are such an important part of the justice system that we have to keep going to the best of our abilities. Along with solicitors, judges, and all other legal professionals, there are a huge number of people counting on us to represent them and bring them a conclusion to their cases, so it’s on us to make the best of this and make sure no-one receives a lesser service during this time.

It’s definitely a matter of fact that, speaking personally, I’m actually busier than before Covid. I had to quickly adapt my working day to make the most of my new working from home arrangements and I’ve found, like so many others, that without extensive travelling around during my day it’s actually possible to be that much more productive than ever before!

Having said that, of course I can’t wait to get back to Chambers and Court properly – it’ll be another sign that we’ve nearly beaten this virus, and one that I think everyone in the justice system will be very welcoming of in general. In our return to our new normal though, I don’t think we should ignore some of the things we’ve learned during this pandemic.

From within my own speciality, family law, I can give you a prime example to consider. We’ve sadly seen a huge surge in cases because of lockdown, as more people are stuck at home, and children not at school, so the upshot has been a terrible rise in domestic violence cases.

This increased awareness of domestic violence as an issue can’t be allowed to fade out of memory at the end of the coronavirus pandemic rather, we must all do everything we can to amplify awareness of this as a major issue.

Another thing that’s become increasingly obvious to me during the pandemic is the number of people who, at a time of increasing financial pressure, simply can’t afford to pay legal fees and have had to represent themselves in very challenging and complex family court issues.

Of course there’s complex issues here, job losses and financial instability are at an all time high, funding for legal aid has dropped to a near all time low, but it does rather seem to me that this is an ignored and unpublicised crisis point within the justice system and, as yet, no-one’s willing to talk about it.

I know that we couldn’t have predicted any of this a year ago, but it does seem to me that Barristers have undergone an unprecedented amount of change in this year and yet, we’re still trying our very hardest to help and represent all of our clients.

I took the personal decision nearly a year ago to represent clients free (pro-bono) for the more difficult cases where I could assist them from having to represent themselves, and other Barristers I know of have taken similar actions. We all have to find a way to survive this pandemic and find ways to support not just our families, but everyone around us who play an integral part in the Justice System.