2021 was going to be the year that we forgot about COVID and got on with our lives. But it was not to be. We thought a year (2020) was long enough for the virus to run its course, and anyway, there were vaccines coming, so it would all be over by Christmas 2020, wouldn’t it?

Well, of course, it wasn’t. It’s only now that we can travel to Queensland, and too bad if you have family or friends in Western Australia – don’t count on getting there until early February.

Here at Tonkin Legal Group, we had to learn (actually, we learnt back in 2020) how to work from home, and our clients got used to seeing us on their laptops, or spending time with us on the phone, rather than the personal contact that comes with face-to-face meetings at the office. Wills and other documents came to be signed, by a staff member pushing a trolley out into the office car park with the documents, the pen to sign with and the necessary stamps. Clunky? Yes, but we all got used to it, and it worked.

Then there was Family Law. While we at Tonkin Legal Group pride ourselves on settling far more cases that we run in court, some matters inevitably end up there. A court hearing involved everyone - the client, barristers, solicitors, witnesses, the court staff and the judge, working from home via Zoom or Teams. While we got used to that, it lacked the ability of the judge to look a witness in the eye and evaluate them. There is a story, which I can’t verify, of one Family Court judge literally being caught with their pants down. The camera at their home slipped off its stand. It had been showing the top half of the judge, properly dressed in a suit and gown, while the bottom half of the picture showed him in his pyjama bottoms – why get all dressed up when only your top half was being shown? I know a number of barristers and solicitors (and clients?) who also only half dressed for court appearances.

On 1 September 2021, the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Courts were amalgamated into one court. With that came the appointment of more judges and registrars (which should speed up cases going through the court), more documents to complete (annoying but necessary, and also designed to make the court process more efficient), and more emphasis on mediation and trying to settle cases without having to go through a stressful and expensive trial – objectives that we at Tonkin Legal Group support.

Now that the COVID restrictions have been nearly eliminated, our staff have been able to return to the office, although some have chosen to work part of the week from home. With the use of modern office equipment, this is going well, and it benefits both the client and the staff member. Of course, we welcome clients who are happy to come to the office if that is convenient for them, the only requirements being that they are fully vaccinated (as are the partners and staff) and that they sign in with the QR code – something we have all got used to. I wonder how we all would have managed if COVID had happened, say, 20 or 30 years ago, without all the equipment that has allowed us, and our clients, to carry on as well as we have.

Thank you for reading our blogs during 2021. The partners and staff wish you and your families Seasons Greetings and a Happy New Year.