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From the president: Adapting to virtual reality

From the president: Adapting to virtual reality

By Sam Pandya

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It is inspiring to see members reaching out and connecting via new technologies.

Through the long winter months of 2020 most Victorians (especially those under strict lockdown and curfew) have had extended periods of time at home – time we would normally expect to spend socialising with family and friends, watching sport, enjoying outdoor activities or attending cultural venues and events. Due to the sudden impact of the pandemic, many of us have had the rare opportunity, after years or decades of legal practice, to properly reflect on our working, community and personal lives, reassess priorities and examine how we can best respond to the uncertainty and unpredictability of our lives and work.

During this time, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with presidents of rural, regional and suburban law associations and other LIV members across Victoria about how they are responding to the situation. It is inspiring to see so many members taking the opportunity to reach out and connect with each other during this period through the embrace of new technologies, providing each other with crucial support and information. One excellent example is the LIV’s Regional and Suburban Series of interactive webinars, which has been running since the pandemic began, during which critical information is shared about practical issues affecting our lives, clients and practices. Discussions have covered contingency planning and future-proofing practices, how COVID-19 is impacting our clients, and ways to more effectively serve them in times of crisis and change. Feedback from rural and regional members is that these new opportunities for virtual information-sharing have made them feel more engaged with the profession than before the pandemic.

I was pleased to attend and address the annual LIV Criminal Law Conference on 7 August, delivered virtually for the first time, with addresses from Judge John Cain, Chief Judge Peter Kidd, Chief Magistrate Lisa Hannan and other magistrates who provided valuable insights into how the courts have adapted to the current crisis and their thoughts on the future delivery of justice. 

It cannot be denied that those practising in criminal law in Victoria are experiencing some of the greatest transformations in their practices as a result of our health responses to COVID-19. In an address to the conference, Chief Magistrate Lisa Hannan informed us the Magistrates’ Court has a growing backlog of matters (criminal and civil) but has begun hearing cases through the Online Magistrates’ Court as a way to continue to provide access to justice and clear this backlog as quickly as possible. We are realising we need to accept justice will be done differently into the future. The way in which criminal lawyers and most litigation lawyers in the Magistrates’ Court and other courts and tribunals work will look very different for the foreseeable future, and probably on an ongoing basis. While the disruptions and changes caused by COVID-19 restrictions are unsettling for many of us, there may be real ongoing benefits to these changes where they have the potential to support access to justice and the ability of citizens and their representatives to navigate the legal system more flexibly and effectively.

At such a challenging time, we are urged to take steps to make ourselves, our practices and our profession more resilient and adaptable. Often, it can be hard to identify what resilience looks like in our own situation. However, experts tell us that the capacity to recover from setbacks and challenges, especially ones as complex as a pandemic, can be learned and rely on us having realistic goals and working together to connect, adapt and problem-solve with confidence and optimism. It requires us to support one another so that creative and innovative ideas for adaptation can be shared, developed and embraced. 

Adapting to ever-changing times and societies is something the legal profession has always done and, if we commit ourselves to collaborating and supporting each other and our profession as a whole, we will continue to do so into the future. ■

Sam Pandya

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