Some reflections from the desk of our Legal Practice Director, Jeff Garrett.
2021 Again dominated by COVID-19
2021 was supposed to be the year where Australia recovered from the ravages of COVID-19 during the 2020 calendar year. Although there was a brief glimmer of hope in the first quarter of 2021 and a brief opening of the QLD/NSW border and lifting of restrictions, 2021 was generally a worse year for the impact of COVID-19 compared to 2020.
Although this impact was more restricted to the more populous states of New South Wales and Victoria, the prolonged lockdowns in those states (which were later joined by South Australia and the ACT), the effective shutdown of the larger states impacted upon the entire country with most interstate travel grinding to a halt.
The international borders remained closed and, although the states of Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory were less affected due to their isolation policies, there is little doubt that the predominant outcome was one of major significance with economic and health consequences.
At the date of publishing this blog, the borders have recently opened and there has been a marked increase in the daily COVID-19 cases in New South Wales and Victoria. The most worrying trend is that the increase in cases appears to be mainly in fully vaccinated people. It remains to be seen whether these fresh outbreaks will be managed under the general mantra of “living with COVID”, or parts of the country will again be plunged into lockdown.
We witnessed firsthand the difficulties imposed upon border residents in all states, but particularly here in Queensland on the Gold Coast/Tweed Heads border community. During the hard lockdown, the inability to cross the border resulted in horrendous outcomes for businesses, workers, school children, tradespeople and professionals, and families generally. Many businesses struggled to cope with the restriction in the movement of border residents and many either closed down or were unable to open due to their owners not being able to cross the border to attend their leased premises.
There were many other cases involving heartbreak and hardship due to the hard border closures. It remains to be seen whether affected residents and businesses will have recourse to any compensation, although the difficult issue here is who would people sue?
A rampant property boom despite the gloom of COVID-19
Perhaps one of the most remarkable outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic was the unexpected fuelling of the property market across the country. It may be difficult to remember before COVID, but the property market and the economy generally prior to the onset of COVID in early 2020 was quite lethargic and had been cooling substantially in the southern states.
Against all predictions, the property market began to boom in the second half of 2020 and continued into 2021. Although there were large numbers of Victorians and people from New South Wales who emigrated to Queensland and bought properties sight unseen to escape the lockdowns, this was only part of a property boom across the nation. In many instances, large sections of the states experienced a 20-25% increase, with some suburbs recording over 50% price increases (e.g. Mermaid Beach on the Gold Coast and Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island). Regional areas were also caught up in the property boom with people from the city moving to regional areas due to the changes to workplace practices brought about by COVID-19 with the resultant increase in people working from home.
Although the property market seems to be levelling out or cooling as the lockdowns have ended, the property market is still quite healthy, and the general low interest rate environment has continued to lead to plenty of activity in this area. It remains to be seen whether this level of frantic buying and selling will continue, but it has certainly resulted in a somewhat unexpected lift to property values generally and has assisted in stimulating the economy.
The latest reports indicate a definite slowing of the growth in prices and clearance rates of auctions. The forecast of increasing interest rates and inflation has also dampened the market in most areas.
Dramatic increase in litigation during 2021
We have noticed a spike in enquiries and clients wishing to take legal action on a range of fronts in litigious matters. It may be that the forced lockdowns enabled people to have the time to properly investigate issues concerning their affairs, but the level of matters opened during 2021 involving disputes or litigation has resulted in us recruiting additional litigation lawyers and staff to cope with the influx.
There has been a general increase in these types of cases across the board but the areas that have dominated our enquiries are banking and insurance company disputes; professional negligence claims against financial planners, accountants, and lawyers; contesting Wills and estate litigation; Public Trustee removal claims; defamation and building disputes. On the compensation or personal injuries front, we have also noticed an increase in historical abuse claims, WorkCover injury claims, and unfair dismissal claims arising from COVID related issues.
Influx of clients to have their Wills done or updated
The onset of COVID made many people panic and we had a rush of enquiries and existing clients coming to us to have their Wills done. Although this was a difficult exercise during lockdown, generally these attendances were exempt and if we were unable to physically consult with someone, most states enacted emergency legislation to allow the audio-visual link witnessing of various legal documents, including Wills.
Although there was an increase in a number of clients who had their Wills done or updated, it still remains the case that a large percentage of people either do not have a Will at all or have not updated their Will in a very long time.
Of equal or more concern is the fact that even less people have an Enduing Power of Attorney. Both documents are vital for anyone to have no matter what age they are or state of health. It is well documented that it is far easier on your loved ones and family members who you leave behind if you have a Will in place. Likewise, if you suffer an illness or injury which results in you losing your mental capacity, having an Enduring Power of Attorney in place will make things much easier for your family members to manage your affairs. If you don’t have this document, it is more than likely that your affairs will end up with the Public Trustee.
- QLD Public Advocate Review exposes Public Trustee’s failings and conflicts of interest
- Public Trust Office Removal – if the public system has let you down, there are options available
- Unfair commissions and financial mismanagement – NSW Trustee and Guardian cannot be trusted
Family Law spike in separations and domestic violence resulting from COVID-19
As expected with any forced lockdowns and the resultant financial pressure from being unable to work, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of family law matters involving separation and/or domestic violence. Sadly, the conditions created by COVID-19 have been a perfect storm for the breakdown of relationships and bringing out the worst in people’s behaviour generally.
Our family law team have been extremely busy dealing with the number of matters and the pressure cooker atmosphere of these very distressing events to people’s lives. The impact on the families is very serious and ongoing. Hopefully, the general opening up of the borders and the economy recovering in general will ease some of the tensions created by the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Internal events at Attwood Marshall Lawyers
Crossing the border
During the hard border closures, we had to relocate some of our staff to alternative offices. The border closure issues meant that we had a large number of staff working from our Kingscliff office. We were lucky in that we were able to quickly adapt to the changing situation and ensure all staff had a station to work at and could continue to work without disruption, and without having to work from home. This ensured our clients were not impacted by the border closures and that their legal needs could be tended to with business as usual. We also made phone and video consultations readily available for any clients who found it difficult to visit any of our office locations, or who were worried about leaving their home when community transmission was an issue.
With industry-leading office technology and systems in place, we were pleased that we were able to adapt to the ever-changing restrictions announced by the government without it impacting our teams or our service offering.
Promotions and milestones
This year has seen a number of significant promotions within the firm, as well as the opportunity to welcome new staff to Attwood Marshall Lawyers as we continue to grow to meet the need of our clients.
In October, we were pleased to announce that Commercial Litigation Lawyer and NSW Law Society Accredited Specialist in Dispute Resolution Charles Lethbridge was promoted to Partner status. Having been with the firm since 2015, Charles helped grow the Commercial Litigation department and hone the firm’s specialist services in this growing and diverse area of law.
Martin Mallon was also promoted to a Senior Associate in our Estate Litigation department. Having joined the firm in 2020, Martin was quick to showcase his client advocacy and strong litigation skills and very quickly proved himself to be an accomplished lawyer who thoroughly deserved his promotion.
Our lawyers celebrated some wonderful personal milestones
this year with Attwood Marshall Lawyers Compensation Law Partner Jeremy Roche marrying his partner Carly at an intimate ceremony at Kingscliff in October. We also welcomed new babies to the Attwood Marshall Lawyers family with Estate Litigation Senior Associate Lucy McPherson giving birth to her baby boy in June, Family Lawyer Emily Edmonds giving birth to a baby girl in September, and Law Graduate Rhiannon Garrett also giving birth to a baby girl in May.
Two of our staff were admitted to the legal profession in 2021, celebrating a massive milestone in their careers. Attwood Marshall Lawyers Compensation Lawyer Henry Garrett was admitted in June and Amelia Clout most recently was admitted this month! We are very pleased to support and foster rising talent and are proud of both Henry and Amelia achieving this wonderful milestone.
Constantly improving our systems
Innovation and technology have always been a priority for our firm. For many businesses, COVID-19 forced them to pivot and establish new systems to be able to facilitate working from home or working remotely in a digital environment. We were already working in this space having implemented industry-leading practice management software and systems prior to the pandemic. Our office systems and technology give our staff the ability to access our practice management system from anywhere – enabling safe, secure connections for our lawyers whether they are working from home or any other location.
We continue to invest heavily in this space and ensure we are performing at the most optimal level and that our clients receive the best legal services possible.
Celebrating 75 years serving the community
2021 was the year for milestones for every Partner, with the writer celebrating his 40th anniversary with the firm, Wills & Estates Partner Angela Harry and Property and Commercial Partner Barry van Heerden both celebrating their 15th anniversary, Compensation Law Partner Jeremy Roche celebrating his 12th anniversary, and Commercial Litigation Partner Charles Lethbridge celebrating his promotion to partner status. Senior Associate and Accredited Aged Care Professional Debbie Sage celebrated her 16th anniversary, having joined the firm as a Wills and Estates Paralegal in 2005.
Coinciding with these anniversaries was the fact 2021 signified Attwood Marshall Lawyers 75th anniversary, tracing the firm’s origins to founding partner Eric Attwood, who moved his young family to Murwillumbah after World War Two in 1946. Eric later formed a partnership with Bob Marshall and his son Richard Attwood and the Attwood Marshall name survives to this day.
The firm in more recent years has undergone a national expansion with offices located across the Gold Coast, Northern New South Wales and in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, with specialist teams that cover most areas of law.
It was wonderful bringing all staff together in November at our Brisbane, Robina Town Centre, Kingscliff, and Coolangatta offices to celebrate this exciting milestone and our proud long-standing history supporting the community.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers remains open during the Christmas period
Our offices remain open throughout the Christmas-New Year period, only closing on public holidays. We continue to have our 24/7 phone line available so that you can contact our team if your matter is urgent, and they will call you back as soon as possible. Call 1800 621 071.
I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. Stay safe during the holidays, and if you need us, we’re always here to help. We look forward to helping you with all your legal needs as the new year rolls in.