Advocate Rose Colley, president of the Jersey Law Society, looks at the challenges and achievements that 2021 has created for the legal profession
AFTER the nightmare of a year that was 2020, it was very pleasing that 2021 was a much calmer and more positive year for the legal profession.
The profession continued to grow and, in the past few months, 22 new members have qualified as Jersey advocates or ecrivains (solicitors). This represents a further strengthening of the legal profession in the Island and shows that new young talent is still keen to join it. These new lawyers are practising across the whole spectrum of Jersey law and this is also very refreshing.
The number of firms practising Jersey law has also grown over the past 12 months and now stands at 53. More firms in the legal market has the advantage that a client potentially has a far wider choice not only of size of firm but also of cost of legal services. It is also noticeable that many firms are now offering free 30-minute appointments on issues such as family and personal injury matters.
I am also delighted to report that although male members of the profession have been in the majority for many decades, there is now almost equal representation between male and female members of the Jersey profession. I hope that this demonstrates to any young person thinking of pursuing a legal career in the Island that the profession is welcoming to all in our community.
Covid has posed particular difficulties for both the courts and lawyers throughout both 2020 and 2021. Together, we have managed to deal with these difficulties from the remote swearing of documents to remote court hearings.
In Jersey, virtually all court appearances have returned to being face to face, unlike in England and Wales where the legal profession is still grappling with all the many challenges faced by remote hearings, particularly in criminal and family matters.
There is no backlog of cases in Jersey as there currently is in England and Wales, and the Bailiff and all the court staff should be congratulated on achieving this, as it means that justice in the Island has not suffered from unacceptable delays.
Of course, Covid has also meant that law firms, along with other employers in the Island, have introduced not only working from home as appropriate but also more flexible working patterns. The pandemic has taught all of us to be far more flexible and innovative and this will, in turn, hopefully lead to a far better work-life balance for lawyers. A recent survey of lawyers showed that all too often lawyers suffer from stress and now there is a growing realisation that wellbeing and working practices that promote this are essential.
In my own area of family law, we have been kept very busy in recent months. It is clear that here, again, Covid has much to answer for in terms of the stresses – often emotional and financial – that were placed on families by the pandemic. In the past year, I have been asked to comment to the media on a whole host of Covid-related concerns from the threat to our human rights due to increased restrictions placed upon us to children and vaccines.
It is probably inevitable that the pace of legislative change has slowed due to Covid, but this is now gaining momentum again. In the family-law field, it is pleasing that divorce reform, together with a move to no-fault divorce, is back on the legislative agenda but there is still a huge gap in legislation to deal with such crucial issues as rights of cohabitees and alternative parenting, particularly in relation to fertility rights. These are issues that will hopefully reach the legislative agenda in 2022.
For the legal profession, there remains huge frustration that after several years of consultation, and even after the legislation has been agreed, the thorny topic of legal-aid reform is still several months from being implemented with no explanation from the government for the reason behind the delay. This will hopefully be resolved in the next few weeks.
As a community, Jersey is incredibly adaptable, and this could not have been tested more thoroughly than during the past two years.
It is both exciting and encouraging that the legal profession has not only survived everything that the pandemic has thrown at us but has hopefully emerged as a profession that is fit for the post-pandemic world.