After a long hard winter weather wise and economically, Summer, especially on sunny days, is a welcome respite. However, Summer brings its own strains. For us lawyers there is the frantic rush of June and July to finalise as many cases as possible before the summer recess. For our clients there is panic about the recess. In June, October seems very far away. The courts are in recess for August and September and resume normal functioning in early October except the District Court which breaks for August but resumes work in September.
Lawyers love this time not because they are on holidays for two months or even one month but because it gives them a much needed opportunity to get their offices and paperwork in order or simply to do some much needed client nurturing. When you are in court enormous amounts of time are spent hanging around. A Solicitor might have one case in the list and spend 4 hours either waiting to get on or in discussions with the other side. It does not always work like that but it quite often does and so office work is at a standstill, other clients are getting frustrated because they want contact and they are not getting it and so forth. Clients are frequently surprised at how much hanging around is done in the courts and the extent to which this forms part of the lawyers working experience. You could possibly bring your laptop and do some separate work? The difficulty with this is that you mostly cannot work outside the court room as generally there is little space for sitting and the seats are occupied with people waiting for court. This means that you would have to leave the vicinity of the court and go to a separate part of the building designated for that purpose. This is always risky. The client who is in court with you may not want you disappearing and leaving them on their own and even if they do not mind, the Judges regularly take the view that when your case is called if you are not outside the door ready to come in, you miss your turn. This means that you miss your place on the list and can go down to the end. Instead of being there for two or three hours or so, you may then be there all day and possibly with an angry client to boot. Sometimes, Judges will strike out cases when the lawyer is not there and this can give rise to the routine humiliation of having to beat breast before the Judge to be reinstated.
People are mystified by the idea that the courts can actually close for such long periods of time but of course they are not completely closed. Emergencies are still dealt with and the higher courts have a designated vacation judge, usually the Judge last appointed draws the short straw, and applications can be made during recess to that person should the need arise. It is worth remembering that some solicitors will take their holidays in August. For that reasons don’t assume that you will have unfettered access to your solicitor during that month. It is a good idea to check in advance. Some practices even close for the month of August but that is rarer these days than in previous times. Again it is a good idea to check. Many Barristers will go away for one of the two months but very few disappear for the full recess period. When I qualified it was the practice for young barristers to use the vacation time to travel and try and earn some money so as to keep going. In the current economic climate this opportunity is probably not there making the lives of newly qualified barristers, who rarely earn much money, quite difficult. Young solicitors work on a salary basis, even if that salary is quite poor, and so can survive the early years of impoverishment with greater ease.
If you are a client waiting for a court date, the court recess is a great time for taking stock. Maybe this is the time to try and negotiate and avoid the trauma of court altogether? And, of course, whether or not the court sits or it does not, collaboration and mediation continue apace and that in and of itself is another reason for considering alternatives to court. Indeed the summer recess is a golden opportunity for your solicitor to negotiate your case, organise collaborative meetings or mediate settlements without the pressure of the court diary.