12 months of lockdown – where are we now?

It is exactly 1 year to the day since the first lockdown and while there have been times when parts of the Country have been released from lockdown, Manchester and the Criminal Justice system particularly, are just two seemingly life without parole prisoners.

But like any model prisoner, we have tried to make the most of time and it hasn’t all be bad.

It has been the toughest of years, there have been many sad days for so many but it has also been a year that has taught us more than in any that has come before it and let us explain why below:

But let me first start with the bad:
1. Courts across the land deferred all but the most pressing cases, meaning that while we had to stay open to service a smaller case load and manage client enquiries, we suffered delayed and reduced cash flow for many months;
2. We had to furlough some staff. This meant harder and longer working days for those who remained on until the government made furlough more flexible, but perhaps most significantly, we missed each other, the company, the support, the advice and the banter;
3. A couple of our team even decided during their time off that they would prefer not to return at all and we were sad to see them leave, made worse by the lack of a leaving party;
4. Our collective mental health has suffered – loneliness, boredom, exhaustion, anxiety all heightened by the prolonged period of unknown, financial uncertainty and doubt;
5. We have probably spent more money as a business than in any other of our 16 years. We have invested heavily in IT to enable remote working and the like and of course without any support from the government as other industries have benefited. Although the judiciary, with their free lap tops, professional training and sanitised working environments were ready to criticise us at every turn;
6. Relationships with the police fell to an all time low as arguments raged over the safety of conditions in police stations for both lawyers and detainees alike.

But now for the Good:

1. We learned to work in weirdly wonderful, exciting and new ways – remote conferences at the prison led to skype interviews at the police station which led to video enabled court hearings;
2. We established agreements with local competitors to help ease the burden of reduced resources for one another by covering each other’s court hearings for free;
3. The government officially recognised us as Key Workers, a rare but welcome opportunity to demonstrate the vital public service, lawyers, particularly legal aid lawyers offer to their local communities – a far cry from the usual negative perception of lawyers;
4. The Legal Aid Agency actually backed off (well a little bit and temporarily anyway);
5. As work levels began to normalise after the first “lockdown” came to an end, we continued our planned expansion and during that period have brought in 4 new members of staff to join our team. We have been so pleased to recruit and welcome the talent that is Louise Griffiths, solicitor to our family team; Ian Owen, solicitor to our Crime team and paralegals Mia Cummins and Sania Raja;
6. We have managed to remain open without exception, servicing and supporting clients either remotely or where necessary face to face (socially distanced and safe). So many of our clients are so vulnerable and it gives us great pride as a firm to know we have not faltered in support of those who need us most;
7. We have taken over another local criminal defence firm to enable us to offer our services to a wider geographical area;
8. A change at the management level of the firm saw one of our founding directors, Peter Casson step down to a part time advocacy role, Oliver Gardner, stepped down as Managing Director after 13 years and David Johnson, (Litigation) was appointed to the position of Managing Director.
9. Most excitingly and perhaps most importantly too, we welcomed two beautiful new babies to the family that is our firm – Amy Hilton had a beautiful baby girl, Zara and Claire Aldridge gave birth to a handsome baby boy, Andre on the 18th February 2021.

As a firm we have refused to be knocked down by what has stood in our way. When so many have failed, given up or stepped back, why are we now stronger than ever before?

We have to credit the team as a whole for their resilience and unyielding commitment during this period. Our lawyers have shown that no matter what, they will be there for their clients, doing their very best and ensuring fairness to all we have the privilege to represent.

BUT what stands out most is the efforts of our admin team, so often overlooked by virtue of their being hidden away in the office. Most of them have worked right through lockdown, fully committed, without complaint, adapting to new ways of working throughout and supporting a pulled out team of advocates.

Without such an amazing team, we would not be where we are today. We look forward now with greater knowledge, strength and opportunity. It can only get better. It has been a year of hope and opportunity amongst the strife.