Looking back at life in lockdown: Liz Cowell
On 12 March, with symptoms of what I thought might be coronavirus, I decided that as a chronic asthmatic I had better stop going into the office. My laptop went home with me. The following day I was in court so on the Monday with great trepidation I commenced working without any paper files, using an online system that had already been designed by the Group’s IT Team, with the expressed intention on the part of the management for all the lawyers ‘to go paperless’ as soon as was then going to be possible.
Prior to that date, I had been one of the dinosaurs in the office, determined to remain behind the fortress of boxes of papers and loose-leaf folders that surrounded my desk. That was how I had always worked, from a time too long ago to admit (but definitely from before many of my colleagues had been born). My pleadings/document files were, I felt, vital to my practice. Furthermore, my IT skills were those of a two-year-old. When I did my ‘articles’ my principal, who did not believe that women should be solicitors, advised me that it might be sensible never to learn to type as if I did, I was bound to be used as a secretary, which in his opinion was actually what I should be anyway. Perhaps he thought if I couldn’t type and he was right about me not qualifying as a solicitor he would be able to get rid of me after two years as I would be useless to him. Well I did qualify and in fact we ended up as good friends, but sadly I had taken on board his advice about typing and I still plonk away with two fingers.
Lockdown has enabled me to overcome my overwhelming fear of working online.
I am lucky that the Group had planned for our journey into cutting edge technology with great forethought. The system we use enables me to create a document, I have a pleadings folder, and my skills over the last four months have improved exponentially. The truth is there is nothing like being thrown in at the deep end to make a beginner learn to swim, and that’s what COVID-19 has done for me with respect to using IT. I have of course had considerable assistance from the wonderful people in our Central Services Team who have managed to put up with my silly queries and cries for help without losing patience (too often) with me. My IT skills are such that I can now arrange meetings online, I can create and save documents, open files and indeed I believe that I am now operating more efficiently than I did before lockdown. Just this afternoon I shared an online platform with a fellow arbitrator, and we delivered a talk to local family law practitioners on the benefits of appointing an arbitrator to resolve family disputes. The emphasis in particular was that in lockdown, arbitrators are far more able to deal with matters than judges who are stuck with an archaic IT system. I felt able confidentially to promote, this due to a knowledge about the system we are using throughout the Group.
Recently, I delivered a five-hour seminar with delegates from across the jurisdiction. Suddenly the world has opened up – I shall no longer need to go all the way to Southampton on the train to deliver a seminar, I am able to sit in my dining room, and do the same not just within a jurisdiction, but with clients around the world.