In-house lawyers want virtual dispute resolution to outlive Covid-19 pandemic

In-house lawyers want virtual dispute resolution to outlive Covid-19 pandemic

Fergus Doorly

The vast majority of in-house counsel want virtual dispute resolution processes to continue past the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, a survey has found.

William Fry surveyed over 100 in-house counsel at its CounselConnect virtual conference this week, where counsel were asked to reflect on how Covid-19 has affected their business and altered the way they work.

Around two-thirds (67 per cent) had been involved in a virtual dispute resolution in the last year. Most (60 per cent) said this virtual process was a court application or hearing.

Looking to the future, 83 per cent want to see a hybrid mix of both virtual and in-person dispute resolution processes, with only five per cent calling for the return of fully in-person processes.

Most respondents (60 per cent) also anticipated that companies might encounter financial difficulties with debtors when state pandemic supports are withdrawn.

Fergus Doorly, head of restructuring and insolvency noted: “The government has provided really strong supports for companies throughout the pandemic. As a result corporate insolvencies only increased by one per cent between 2019 and 2020 and in Q1 2021 have decreased by 30 per cent.

“However, as the survey results indicate, it is expected that when the government supports are discontinued there will be a marked increase in the number of insolvencies that will occur. To combat this the government is looking to introduce new legislation to allow small enterprises to avail of restructuring processes.”

Commenting of the changing landscape of the courts, Mr Justice Michael Quinn said: “Within a couple of months of Covid-19, the court system responded with hearings across various virtual platforms. So, very quickly and early in the process, we began to hold hearings where witnesses would give their evidence over remote platforms.

“Overall, this has been a very successful exercise and the use of technology for litigation purposes has been successful and allowed much business to continue on schedule during the pandemic.”

Attendees at the virtual conference also heard from members of William Fry’s employment department, who highlighted key anticipated legislative developments for employers and employees in 2021 and reviewed the recently launched code of practice on the right to disconnect.

Employment partner Ailbhe Dennehy said: “Whilst failure to follow the code is not an offence itself, such non-adherence can be submitted as evidence before the courts in supporting employee claims under existing legislation.

“To demonstrate compliance, employers should develop and implement a tailored right to disconnect policy, put training in place for all staff and review their current approach to time recording mechanisms.”

Other speakers at the conference included Lyndon MacCann SC; Garrett Breen, head of litigation and dispute resolution at William Fry; Laura Scott, litigation and dispute resolution partner; Ian Devlin, head of pensions; and senior associate Ciara McLoughlin and associate Eimear O’Leary in the employment and benefits team.

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