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LIV tells parliament of pandemic’s impact on profession

LIV tells parliament of pandemic’s impact on profession

By Karin Derkley

Courts COVID-19 Practice & Procedure 

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The LIV has told a parliamentary committee the legal profession has been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis, with regional practitioners who were still reeling from January’s bushfires particularly affected.

"Some of our members are feeling a bit of duress in terms of getting their businesses back to normal after both those issues," LIV CEO Adam Awty told the Inquiry into the Victorian Government's Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic yesterday.

The 70 percent of Victoria’s private practitioners that are sole or single partner practices are dealing with similar difficulties experienced by other small businesses in terms of cash flows, rent and staff, he said.

But even in larger firms, staff had been stood down or offered fewer days, and had pay cuts.

Any support that could be made for practitioners to get back up and running, particularly those in the regions, was a positive step, he said.

The parliamentary committee commended the LIV for discounting membership fees and thanked the organisation for its support of the legal profession.

It reminded the LIV to make members aware of $10,000 grants for eligible suburban and rural and regional law firms.

As well as the discount, Mr Awty said the LIV has stepped up its services to members, which had seen about 2500 practitioners around the state attend free webinars and chats on everything from employment law issues and business contingency, through to the application of the COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 and new measures to allow electronic witnessing of documents.

The LIV has also urged its members to ise its member assistance program which provides three counselling sessions free of charge.

The LIV was among a number of agencies and organisations testifying at the inquiry.

LIV president Sam Pandya told the committee the LIV continues to work with the courts, the government and the profession to keep the justice system operating at a time of crisis.

"We have been in constant contact with the courts, the government and the regulators to make sure that the justice system could continue to function efficiently. The courts have not closed, legal services are still available to clients, but we have had to adjust to different ways of providing legal services," Mr Pandya said.

He thanked the Victorian government on its "consultative and efficient approach with the legal profession during this unprecedented crisis". He said the LIV also acknowledged the leadership of the courts in adapting procedures to remain open for the community during the crisis.

Mr Awty noted that many of the changes achieved would normally have taken years to get up and running.

"While this crisis has created a lot of challenges, it has also created opportunities to look at how we do business. There are some measures that have been implemented that I think over time we should look at whether they have future benefits."

These included the ability for documents to be witnessed electronically, courts moving to digital hearings, and judge-only trials.

"The digital service delivery has been a fundamental shift and it's been one of the areas where the profession, the justice system and stakeholders have actually come together to try and work out quite rapid solutions."

Technology such as WebEx and Zoom had allowed matters to be heard without delays, allowing clients their day in court, Mr Awty said. “Making sure that the justice system can keep moving has been critical during this crisis. So it's been a win-win for our practitioners, their clients and the courts".

Some of the changes would be reviewed for longer term adoption, he said. "Obviously, given the rapid nature in which we had to implement some of the emergency measures, if we were to go into a more fulsome adoption of some of these, we'd need to do further analysis and consultation as to how they would actually operate in whatever the new normal is."


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