Grosvenor Law's Andrew Gilmore believes working practices have changed forever because of the Lockdown experience, as remote and virtual hearings have become prevalent, but that in the area of criminal law sometimes face-to-face just can't be replaced.
Andrew and I were speaking after he had helped Kysen with a media enquiry from the Express, requesting expert legal comment on an EastEnders crime storyline. As you can imagine Kysen never likes to turn journalists away empty handed, so through a mutual friend and client Derrina Jebb from SA Law we were put in touch and Andrew prepared some insightful comments at breakneck speed. We were extremely grateful for his input (you can take a look at the full article here), so thank you Derrina for the introduction. (Readers, do bear us in mind if you are sat on your sofa watching a TV or film plotline that has a legal angle. We have a little-black-book of TV journalist friends who love to hear how real legal life compares with the stories they are reviewing.) Andrew knows the system pretty much better than anyone I know. He began his career at the Serious Fraud Office before moving to East End criminal law firm JR Jones, followed by a 14 year stint at Janes Solicitors, finishing up at Mayfair's best, Grosvenor Law, which specialises in complex cases for high net worth individuals, whether arising from business or personal life. Not only was he super helpful with this press enquiry, but we also got talking about the justice system. And when he opines, given his background and expertise, you really want to listen.
We talked at length (over Zoom of course, as this is the way The Conversation has evolved in recent months 😉), about how everyone's Coronavirus-induced experience working remotely from home is the way forward and how it has expedited the courts' take-up of technology as well, most of which is a very positive experience. "However with criminal work you have to appreciate how stressful it is for an individual being defended from accusations in the context of the Criminal Justice System", Andrew explains. "It's so highly personal, and threatening, so when clients meet the lawyers defending them, it needs to happen in person. They want to know you're there for them and they will want to check out the cut of your jib, to see who it really is that they have on their side. Often the defendant will feel backed into a corner and that everyone is against them. And usually that first meeting with the lawyer(s) takes place at a police station, which is an intimidating environment for a defendant, so clients certainly don't want you attending by phone or video. They need your physical presence because in this distressed situation they will want an element of personal comfort and support, at a level that doesn't occur in the commercial law world. Criminal defence work is very much a trust based service industry."
There is a place for online hearings in the Criminal Justice System and for this reason Andrew has been very pleased to see how the use of technology has ramped up in the criminal courts. "They bring tremendous efficiencies when it comes to smaller, preliminary hearings. For these, online is perfect. It's so much quicker, cuts down on travel time and cost, and is convenient all round: better for prisoners and for the prison system, as it dispenses with the need to transport defendants between prison and court, so to this end it saves tax payers money. It's also been interesting to observe another benefit of running these smaller hearings online; there's far less space for people to talk when a hearing is conducted via a medium like Zoom. And when people do talk, what they say is to the point. This all cuts out time that is usually wasted when hearings happen in person. It also dispenses with the physical "faffing about" that happens in real life as people take their seats in a room, and the additional talk and chatter that happens at this point. So in all, the whole process is slimmed down considerably. However when the case gets to the full trial, the in-person element is critical. Yes, online can help speed up the system, but detachment is not good when it comes to a trial and is likely to be detrimental to defendants. Anyone accused of a crime will want to see their accusers face the full trial process."
When judging the fairness of the Criminal Justice System, empathy for defendants is generally in short supply. But to my mind, one of the central tenets of justice and respect for human rights is what happens to an innocent person who is put through the system. Do they emerge unscathed? Or is the process so frightening and stressful that they are left with lasting damage? "Whilst efficiency in the system is important", Andrew continues, "we need to be wise as to when technology should take a back seat in the courtroom and understand when face-to-face shouldn't be substituted."
I was keen to ask Andrew about a point Head of 7BR Chambers Collingwood Thompson mentioned to me last week, that "judge-only" criminal trials are being suggested to deal with the backlog of cases resulting from the need to socially distance in the courtroom (meaning far fewer trials can take place a day). Collingwood gave me his view (which we placed in The Times, available to view here if you have a subscription), that judges are far more likely to convict than juries. "That is precisely why the profession has been up in arms about the suggestion", says Andrew. Yes we need to deal with the backlog, but judge only trials are not the way."
In case you missed it, New Law Journal recently published a three-page feature detailing the results of a joint study with Kysen on how top legal marketing professionals measure Return On Marketing Investment. You can access the full article here. Measuring ROI is a thorny challenge for the professional services sector at the best of times. And now even more so, as firms, chambers and other legal businesses scramble for position post-Lockdown, at a time when every single penny of the marketing budget has to count.
Over the next few weeks on this blog we will be publishing in full the individual interviews summarised in this feature, to give you even greater insights.
So we are gradually returning to pub culture and I have to say the British Public has never in history looked so coiffured, all at the same time. By the end of next week, I imagine everyone in saloon and public bars up and down the country will be pumped and preened without exception. Rare for everyone's haircut cycle to be so in sync. Time for the great national selfie?