the–Caroline THERMOZ-LIAUDY– Lawyers
In office since January 1, the President of the Grenoble Bar, Evelyne Tauleigne, is experiencing an unprecedented and eventful start to his mandate. After two months of strike against the pension reform, it is the Covid-19 crisis which is likely to jeopardize the future of certain lawyers.
What are the different factors that led to a situation that was difficult for lawyers to maintain?
Today, we combine the change in procedures, and two and a half months of strikes, with the sudden cessation of activity due to the Covid-19. Since December, there was already no more hearing at the district court since the merger with the TGI was being prepared there as part of the creation of the court.
Then there were the months of strike related to the reform project of our retirement system and today, a health crisis which led to the closing of the courthouses.
Financially, we are starting to suffer the consequences. We indeed have a time lag between the invoicing of fees and their payment, which leaves us room to maneuver. But this year, the months of January and February were also disrupted. Also, in April many firms did not charge anything at all.
Can you work remotely, despite the closure of the courthouse?
It is more complex than that. In criminal matters, there is a little bit of activity. The courthouse continues to operate for emergencies, and lawyers work on a voluntary basis.
We must salute the good Grenoble agreement between the Palace and the Bar, which made it possible to build a business continuity plan, even a very small one, in criminal matters as well as in civil matters. We are also one of the first jurisdictions to have been able to set up this dematerialized operation. Lawyers are not allowed to enter the Palace, except those who intervene for the emergency defense. However, cases can also be taken care of, without hearings and without oral argument. We have set up a dedicated platform which has taken care of 50% of the non-urgent cases which were heard for the months of March and April.
We must salute the good Grenoble agreement between the Palace and the Bar
Have these solutions been made possible thanks to the reform of modernization and dematerialization of justice?
Not really, no. If the RPVA (virtual private network of the lawyer) allows lawyers to work and transmit documents in a secure manner from any post and place, the equivalent of the magistrates, the RPVJ (virtual private network of justice) , does not work locally. The clerks and magistrates could not therefore read the massages that we sent.
We had to reinvent a solution, and we have created a dedicated platform, where we can file our conclusions and our documents, and which the judges can consult from a distance.
We have a very healthy and very frank dialogue with our magistrates. The first president of the court of appeal recently proposed to set up a physical deposit of files, for cases without hearing or oral argument.
A study was carried out on the Grenoble bar to measure the impact of the months of reduced activity. What are the conclusions?
The CNB launched an investigation, the results of which were very alarmist, citing the figure of 27,000 lawyers who could stop the profession. So I wanted this study to be conducted in Grenoble. Participation was quite large, and there was a big loss of activity in March.
You cannot exactly differentiate between loss of activity from the virus and loss of activity from the strike. However, a good number of respondents reported a complete cessation of activity in April. Volunteers on criminal matters have a little bit billed.
On the answers obtained, we also have many lawyers who tell us that the offices are closed. They do not see their customers, and change little by phone with them. The exchanges are more numerous by emails. Over 70% of respondents also reported that they had no new customers.
The majority of those with salaried staff have resorted to partial unemployment. Some have been able to put their employees to work, but the activity is not sufficient. This will be problematic because the status of collaborator is very specific.
More than 60% of respondents reported a decline of at least 60% in their activity compared to March 2019, and even -70% for the month of April.
Almost 10% of the lawyers of the Grenoble bar plan to stop the profession. 30% plan to prosecute by reducing their staff. And many will expand their field of activity in law.
The cessation of lawyers’ activities is also a risk for access to justice. Because the cabinets that will close will be the smallest, often in the eccentric areas. If the cabinets installed in the small towns cannot survive there, they could regroup in the big cities. The territorial network will be less good.
– 60% activity in March, – 70% in April
What resumption of activity is envisaged?
I had made the designations of office to prefer volunteering for him. The lawyers who manage immediate appearances, or consultations for police custody, do so if they are voluntary, respecting the usual precautions. I also managed to order masks.
In Grenoble, there are many small firms. I call them the artisans of the law, and many live under emergency defense and legal aid, while the legal aid office is not functioning. So our colleagues work but are not paid.
The CNB met with the Chancellery last week, what solutions came out of it?
A number of measures provided for freelancers were not applicable for lawyers. We have highlighted the importance of maintaining the activity of legal aid, and of paying for this activity. It was planned to make financial advances for legal aid.
We are also trying to obtain a simplification of fee taxation. This would allow the concrete mixer to obtain the executory force of his act, without going through the court. This should make it possible to reduce the payment periods, in the event of non-payment or dispute.
A risk for access to justice
The Grenoble Bar has implemented a number of decentralized actions, including a contact platform for lawyers. Is the results satisfactory?
I think this solution was very well received, especially since it was done very quickly. It may be a solution that we will adopt, even if it means making some modifications.
It may also be the time to develop alternative methods of out-of-court dispute resolution. We are trying to see with the mediation commission how to set up an online mediation system, but everything remains to be done. I wish all the more that my colleagues develop mediation, that it is both a solution to recreate activity for lawyers, and to meet the demand of litigants.
Finally, to meet our training obligation, we wish to set up e-learning training, either in videoconference or via videos.
Interview by Caroline Thermoz-Liaudy