As Philadelphia begins to emerge from lockdown and all the changes we’ve grown accustomed to during the pandemic, we can now reflect on the past 18 months and try to shed light on any positives we might identify despite the hardships endured by so many. What did we learn? What did we do differently, and would it make sense to continue some of our pandemic modifications? How can we improve on some of the inequities in and barriers to accessing the courts and legal services that may have been exposed during COVID?

For public interest family law practitioners representing survivors of domestic violence, the pandemic had us worrying about more than how COVID-19 would impact litigation and the courts. We were fearful the pandemic was causing an increase in domestic violence, and we were concerned about how survivors were going to reach out to us while potentially stuck at home with their abusers. How would they know when and where they can file for protection or child custody during the pandemic? How would service of protection orders and notices to appear be effectuated? How would the approximately 85% of litigants who can’t afford attorneys appear in virtual hearings, or even know how to file pleadings while the physical building remained closed?