How Tees law firm has adapted to help clients during Covid lockdown

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Jennifer Williamson, left, with Katy Moody outside of Punch Robson Solicitors’ Ingleby Barwick branch. Picture by Tom Banks

The coronavirus crisis has shone a spotlight on legal matters of all kinds.

And none more so than the family division of the law which, despite lockdown, has been busier than ever.

Matters of divorce have, as they often do when partners spend prolonged periods of time together, been exacerbated and, sadly, the issue of domestic abuse has also reared its head in an unprecedented way.

The result has been an increasing workload for the talented team at Valley-based based mixed practice law firm PunchRobson, which has offices in Ingleby Barwick and Coulby Newham.

The team strengthened its number with the appointment of associate solicitor Jennifer Williamson in April and has adapted to both digital and essential face-to-face ways of working with clients to ensure the exact same high level of service has continued throughout these challenging times.

The early days of lockdown were marked with calls for advice from separated families whose children usually spend their time between two households, said divorce specialist Katy Moody.

As the weeks have progressed, the desire to start divorce proceedings has come to the fore as have matters relating to domestic abuse.

“For families, the Covid crisis has created a lot of issues,” said Katy.

“Lockdown has exacerbated issues for people who were previously unhappy. From a divorce perspective, couples who had been separated for years are deciding now is the time to get it sorted out and draw a line under it.”

“Potentially harmful environments have also been exacerbated by lockdown,” said Jennifer. “Particularly for victims of domestic abuse.

“If there was going to be a quiet period, it might have been expected to be the past six weeks but that has not been the case at all. In fact, domestic abuse referrals have increased.”

The team has been busier than ever. As lockdown came into force, they switched to implementing more remote ways of working, staying in touch with clients by phone or video calls and face-to-face contact where it has been essential.

As lockdown easing began, an appointment system abiding by essential safety considerations has continued in the office.

Conversations can be difficult and sensitive in the family area of the law but, says Jennifer, clients take a sense of safety from knowing their solicitor is there when needed.

“We can see clients if necessary, but we have been keeping in touch over the phone or via Teams really well and it gives clients a sense of safety as well, to know that you are there at the end of the phone,” she said.

“For victims of domestic abuse, significant abuse, those conversations can be very difficult to have over the phone but clients understand that’s the way it has had to be.

“Family law is often about emotional support and legal support.”

Going forward, said Katy, the family courts have been given the green light for a phased reopening.

The team at Punch Robson will continue its close monitoring of the situation and the legal guidance as it changes and adapts to best serve clients.

Protecting your assets

The importance of getting your affairs in order – both on a personal and a professional level – has come to the forefront during lockdown and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The team at Punch Robson has seen an increasing number of enquiries and say the issue is a crucial one.

Setting up or reviewing a will and protecting assets are primary concerns as fears for health and the changing commercial landscape come to the fore, said Punch Robson managing partner Elaine McLaine-Wood.

“From a business perspective, commercial clients want advice with regards to getting wills set up, for the vast number that don’t have wills,” said Elaine.

“If you have one, you might not have reviewed it for a while.

“People are more nervous given the Covid situation and not just on a personal level. Putting together shareholders agreements, for example, or considering what will happen to a business in the event of someone passing away.”

“When people talk about changing wills, they do it when there is a change in circumstances,” said partner Andrew Steel, from Punch Robson’s private client team.

“Covid-19 has changed a lot of circumstances from a personal and a business point of view.”

The economic landscape may have changed the value of a business for the better or for the worse and business owners should consider how that might have an effect on their estate and their family members, he said.

Digital assets are also a consideration.

“The positive thing to come out of this is that we are all doing more things digitally and we will all have more assets that are digital in nature from a personal and a business point of view.

“We have to start looking at how we deal with digital assets in wills as well.”