The Critical Importance Of Face-to-Face Law: Reflections From A Defence Lawyer

by Ruth Roberts

“I miss the whispered conversations in overcrowded hallways, the atmosphere, as thrilling here, as always…..”

A quote from “Sunset Boulevard” by Don Black, Christopher Hampton and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The last time I was in Court was March 15, 2020. Looking back on it, it seems like another lifetime, and of course, it was. For me, it was the last normal day before the full impact of COVID-19 hit home. It was the last time I saw my colleagues and friends; advocated in front of a judge for a client; went into battle. It was the last time I was a courtroom warrior. I miss it quite desperately.


Defence lawyers, like myself, are restless waiting to resume the fight for justice.  

Work, of course, goes on. There is always something I can do for clients, even from behind my desk. Our staff and I are preparing for when the courts re-open and life resumes, not in the way it was before, of course, but more than it is now. Meanwhile, I miss the face to face contact with clients and colleagues, the cut and thrust of the courtroom, the times when I believe I have made a real difference for someone. I miss the messy, rowdy, unpredictable life that I live as a defence lawyer, living by my wits and on my feet in court. I miss the colour, noise and pulsing life of the glorious world of criminal law. Right now, I feel as though I am living life in sepia tones; a life that is quiet and reasonably sane. It’s a nice life, and I am grateful. But it’s not what I was made for.

Defence lawyers are a different breed. When you are with a group of criminal defence lawyers, it’s like being with a flock of birds – more specifically, crows. A group of crows is aptly called a murder. When we are together we are noisy, curious, quarrelsome and opinionated. We are fierce and unpredictable. We go out every day and fight for our clients. We fight to keep them safe. We fight to make sure their voices are heard. We fight to ensure that justice is not only done but also that it is seen to be done.

It’s pretty hard to do that from behind a desk.

 While technology has allowed some legal processes to continue, the critical importance of face-to-face law continues to be highlighted. 

Lots is being said and written about the Justice system, and the need to bring it into the 21st century; specifically, the need to make better use of technology. While these points are all valid, there is no substitute for face-to-face contact. Words are the smallest part of how we communicate, and they are very blunt tools.

I need to be able to see my client, to be attuned to signs of confusion or distress. I need to be able to assess the body language of a witness; watch the movement of the judge’s pen; know when it’s time to change my tone of voice or to take a step back. Video conferencing can provide some of that contact, but there are times when we need the touch of a hand to ease things.

COVID-19 is teaching us many things. One of the most important lessons to take away from all of this is how much we value and treasure the seemingly inconsequential moments in life. Time after time, when I ask people what they are missing most right now, they answer “human contact.” People are craving hugs, hand-holding, friendly touch. We are craving the “whispered conversations, in overcrowded hallways,” the shared jokes and collective experiences. We are missing each other.

Right now we have no way of knowing what tomorrow will look like. Trials and guilty pleas and sentencing will resume because justice needs to be done. And somehow, eventually, we lawyers will be back in our natural habitat, scrapping and arguing and fighting for our clients, and all we believe in.

From my perspective, it can’t happen soon enough.


Ruth Roberts