I first opened the doors to Spectrum Lawyers & Consultants in January 2018. Who could have known how much would happen in just a year and a half!
I established my law firm to operate remotely so it offered the flexibility of operating either from my own office or from my clients’ offices. And with Stage-4 restrictions now in Melbourne metropolitan, this flexibility has been an absolute blessing. Whilst we do operate out of satellite offices in both Altona and Williamstown depending on client needs, we are also set up to operate efficiently from our home offices. This has allowed us to have streamlined processes with our legal consultant, virtual assistant and other amazing support people (who you may have noticed recently featured in our social posts).
However, when we set up this flexible practice, we never imagined we would also need to juggle remote learning for the children and adapt to VCAT running hearings and conferences via ZOOM. This has demanded another layer of diversity from our practice, but it is something we are definitely prepared for.
So, does this change the offerings of our firm? Not really. The biggest change has really been managing our clients’ uncertainty and questions around what the Stage-4 restrictions mean for the construction industry:
- How do you prepare for an upcoming hearing when experts are not allowed to visit a site to carry out an inspection?
- How do you file and serve a Tribunal Book, which is several volumes big, when there is no one at VCAT to accept service?
- Does five (5) people onsite include all the delivery drivers who are not physically onsite?
- How do the restrictions regarding movement between sites actually work in practice?
- Plus, many, many more questions which still need to be answered.
Running a VCAT matter is obviously different during a pandemic. Whilst I commend VCAT for continuing to operate to ensure matters are not unnecessarily delayed, a complex hearing with multiple witnesses and experts, and volumes of documentation is very difficult to manage via a video conference. Further, running a compulsory conference over video or (worse) phone, is extremely difficult as the technology removes the emotional connection between the parties. This is actually not always a bad thing, but it can be difficult when parties are trying to negotiate to resolve a matter.
Business as usual just does not seem right anymore. Whilst our phones are always on for our clients, and we are always ready to respond to an email, nothing about this situation is usual. There is a lot of uncertainty for not only the builders, but for the owners as well. Money is tighter for some families, which seems to have brought an increase in payment disputes. And things in general seem to take a lot longer, as people are either busier trying to sort out how they keep operating within the new restriction guidelines, or perhaps because working remotely is more challenging for some.
No one knows how long the restrictions will last (whether they be Stage-4 or something different), or how long it will be before children go back to school, kinder or childcare. But with so much uncertainty, the one certainty we can give you is that we are here. Ready to assist our clients with their legal matters like we always have been. And, whilst things are definitely different, and there are some limitations on what we can do externally (eg, inspections, physically attend courts and tribunals etc), we are still here to help and support you with your legal queries and matters.
We’ll get through this together.