When the ‘laptop lifestyle’ becomes compulsory
I have found this message one of the hardest to compose in my time as President. There is little I can say to lessen the impact of the latest blow of Stage 4 restrictions on members of our college. I have been inundated with messages from members who are struggling with the implications of this latest public health response.
Until recently, the ‘laptop lifestyle’ has been touted by freelancers as their ideal working environment: work from anywhere, anytime. But the tightening of restrictions imposed on us this week has meant that moving to a virtual office setup is no longer a choice but an urgent imperative. While we can work anytime, we certainly can’t work anywhere. Except for very limited circumstances, we must work from home – as inconvenient, or indeed as impossible, as that might seem.
The news is full of stories of individuals and families across the city grappling with organising work and life at home in Stage 4 lockdown. It affects us all – the same measures apply to our clients, our instructing solicitors, and most in the community. We are in this together. But it will not affect us all equally. We all need to be cognisant of the personal circumstances under which we, our colleagues, our instructing solicitors and clients, are working – some will have more distractions than others; we may work more slowly; familiar resources may be more difficult to find; we will get tired, Zoom eyes; everything will just take that bit longer or be that bit harder.
So please be patient. Be kind. Be respectful. Be empathetic – even when your own circumstances are difficult. These are the things we can still control when so much currently is beyond us.
I want to assure members again that my discussions with heads of jurisdiction over the past few days, and in particular with Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, Anne Ferguson, have confirmed that they are acutely conscious of the fact that the latest restrictions will make the ‘business as unusual’ practices that we have come to manage over the past few months all the more difficult, and that mutual latitude and tolerance are going to be key as we navigate the current restrictions as best we can.
Technology and e-briefs
I know that for a number of members, these past few days are the first on which they have been working in true lockdown at home. The change is disruptive, but it’s important to be prepared, and to access the support that is available to us.
Since April 2020, VicBar has hosted more than a dozen CPDs specifically dedicated to training on the various online technology platforms used by the courts, solicitors and clients. Presenters have included industry professionals and senior judiciary, and have spanned many topics such as webcam advocacy, virtual hearings, court responses to COVID-19, e-briefs and the Online Magistrates’ Court. With law firms closed to on-site work, sending and receiving hardcopy briefs is now virtually impossible. E-briefs are becoming the norm, and the CPD catalogue includes training on everything from how to organise your folders through to the eBrief Ready platform that a number of lists, and instructing law firms, have embraced. Members can view the entire suite of VicBar CPDs here.
Resources and training from the Law Library of Victoria
While the Richard Griffiths Library in Owen Dixon East is closed, the Law Library of Victoria has done a terrific job of providing help and training to barristers transitioning to using online legal resources. The library provides legal resources via the Digital Bar Library for barristers working remotely here. The library also offers an excellent series of webinars on legal research, which you can access here, and see the notice below about the upcoming Legal Research eLearning Focus on UK judgments and Australian treatment.
September 2020 Readers
In such strange times, it’s important to remember that we will come out the other side. My confidence that the Bar will remain a friendly, supportive, collegiate place in which to find a professional home is, I hope, shared by the new September 2020 cohort of 33 Readers, who we welcomed for their orientation last Friday. For the first time, this was conducted remotely, as the entire Readers’ course will be – another surprising milestone for 2020.
Talk to others and seek help
It’s a really tough time. Reach out to your networks. Stay in touch.
The Victorian Bar’s health and wellbeing page has a wealth of resources for those members who are feeling overwhelmed by the Stage 4 Restrictions and trying to navigate the challenges of managing the collision of work and domestic priorities.
The Bar funds two independent counselling services for members and their families for professional and personal issues. The services include 24-hour crisis helplines: Re-Vision Group on 9650 5540 and Converge International on 1300 687 327.
For IT matters, contact the BCL Service Desk on 9225 8888. Although BCL staff are no longer working in chambers, they are available to assist members remotely.
As you settle in each night for curfew, I hope you are able to enjoy some quality time with your family and loved ones, away from your desk, or “Garage Chambers” as one member refers to his work-from-home setup – especially now as the chill factor in Melbourne’s weather seems to have dialled up a notch. Stay warm, and stay safe.