Strata lawyer Ciro Figaro knew 2020 was going to a big year. It was, after all, the year he and his wife added an extra Figaro to the family; with newborn son Seb joining their tiny apartment menagerie of two cats and a terrier. When COVID-19 sent his firm home overnight, Ciro knew he had some adjustments to make.
Finding the right balance to achieve procedural fairness
“We pretty much went cold turkey,” said Ciro, who practices in Strata Law, Building and Construction Law, and Property Law. “One day we were in the office, the next we weren’t. Luckily, like many law firms, we were already set up to work remotely.”
Maintaining efficiency and effectiveness while surrounded by the natural distractions of home life was his foremost challenge.
“To stay focused on our daily goals, we have a video conference every morning where we discuss the progress of our files and coordinate actions for the day,” said Ciro. “We also use an internal chat and share electronic calendars with events and tasks. All our meetings with clients or opposing parties are carried out via telephone or video conference.
“Like many, we’ve taken advantage of some of the reforms introduced with the Covid-19 Legislation Amendment Act 2020 (NSW), with courts and tribunals facilitating electronic file lodgements, extending filing deadlines, allowing telephone and video conference hearings, and dispensing with the need for parties to appear in person, wherever possible.”
While the legal system continues to function, complex hearings can be difficult.
“Cross-examining multiple witnesses via telephone conference is a challenge,” said CIro. “Finding the right balance between technology, and achieving the ideals of “just, cheap, and quick” procedural fairness has been troubling the judiciary for a while. Perhaps 2020 was the test that we all needed to progress the way justice is delivered in the future.”
Firm culture is crucial
Ciro’s clients primarily comprise Owners Corporations in residential schemes. This means he chiefly deals with building defect claims against builders and developers, breach of contract issues against Service Providers, nuisance and by-laws breaches, and compulsory acquisitions.
“Owners Corporations have probably been slightly less financially affected than commercial offices,” observed Ciro. “However, some matters have settled in consideration of potential financial strain, while some construction projects have been delayed.
“I am lucky enough to work in a firm full of young and positive lawyers. Besides chatting every day, we are all encouraged to go out to exercise and to take several breaks during the day.
“I’ve found we are much closer to each other than before lockdown and ready to cheer each other up. Perhaps the real lesson from 2020 is to stay connected.”
Ciro acknowledges that his firm affords a great work-life balance, which in turn, helps him be the best lawyer he can be.
“In general, I feel quite fulfilled,” said Ciro. “As a lawyer, you are your client’s trusted advisor. My work - especially building defects matters - really impact people’s quality of life. Helping owners, who are often paying off huge mortgages, to carry out expensive rectification works so they can live safely and within their means, is very satisfying.”
Working from home with a newborn
Working from home with his author and publisher wife, newborn son, and pets have meant scheduling adjustments.
“I often dream - when I rarely sleep - of quarantine life as a young lawyer with no kids,” mused Ciro. “I would wake up at 7 am, go for a run and yoga, pick up a coffee, start working at 9 am, take a break at midday and finish working at 6 pm to relax by smoking my favourite cigar and sipping a glass of rum while reading the biography of Napoleon or Churchill.”
However, with an active 10-month-old son and a wife busy finalising multiple publishing projects, his thirtysomething life looks quite different.
“I wake up at 6 am, and take two-hour shifts looking after our son and working,” said Ciro. “This means stretching our working hours well into the night. My main exercise is playing with my baby, who does more squats than me! It’s tiring, but I’m blessed to have these unique moments to bond which we might otherwise not have shared had it not been for lockdown.”
Cast apart while staying connected
Ciro likens lockdown life to Tom Hanks in ‘Castaway.’
“Let go of what you can’t control,” said Ciro. “Lockdown has pushed lawyers outside their comfort zone. This is always a good way to improve. It surely has highlighted the role technology plays when liaising with clients or colleagues. I feel we are all farther apart in terms of physical distance, but closer than ever as we live through these challenges together.”
In terms of the practical hacks he has learned in lockdown, Ciro has four tips.
“Assess your surrounding circumstances, particularly space, people - and your proximity to the fridge!” said Ciro. “Develop a flexible plan which will allow you to cope with all the above considerations. “Be clear to build trust. Communicate ahead of time when you cannot meet a deadline, while constantly managing for more realistic expectations. Finally, make time for yourself. Remember the Latin phrase, ‘mens sana in corpore sano’ - a healthy mind in a healthy body.”