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COVID-19 & The Changing Tide
Posted on January 25, 2021
From the commencement of the global pandemic, judicial centers around the world have been forced to adapt to the new distancing, mask wearing, and isolation protocols that the Federal and Provincial governments have implemented. Alberta is no exception. One silver lining during this turbulent time is how the courts have utilized technology in response to adhering to new safety protocols by utilizing technology. The focus of this article will detail how the courts, clients, and law firms have adapted to meet the challenges presented by COVID-19 going into the future.
The judiciary is not known as an agent of change. While the implications of decisions rendered by the courts and legislation embracing new social and political sentiments are important pillars, the rule of law, and the legal profession, are not natural embracers of change.
COVID-19 has created a massive backlog at the courts, which the courts have responded to by adjusting the requirements for in-person filing of documents, allowing counsel to swear affidavits by two-way video conferencing, appearing at the court virtually, etc., which has lead to greater effectiveness. However, this has also led to an increase in administrative responsibility and interruptions caused by a variety of factors (components of working from home, not enough bandwidth, inappropriate attire, etc).
In response to COVID-19, each level of the judiciary has implemented strict new policies and operating procedures. Each court’s policies may be reviewed through their web pages below:
It is vital to review these pages regularly, as the situation with COVID-19 is fluid and the courts are responding to the developing COVID-19 situation and the pandemic response by the Federal and Provincial governments.
Depending upon your location in the Province, the court procedures in your judicial district will vary. Lawyers across the province can expect their previous experience with the Court to have changed dramatically. Each lawyer will need to understand current procedures, and diligently update themselves with the newest announcements posted by each level of the judiciary, depending upon the particulars of your case. From filings, securing hearing or trial dates, mediations, and how one appears before the court has fundamentally shifted.
Technology has facilitated, what at first was a seemingly turbulent transition, but an eventual more efficient and effective Court system. The use of programs such as Webex or Zoom, have allowed courts to implement new technology that some would argue is long overdue. The way in which the courthouse and the Provincial government have moved in unison to reform an antiquated and bureaucratic court system, to one that specializes court clerks, task management, and relies upon technology to connect counsel, judges, and clients, is laudable.
Among other things, clients can expect that lawyers and their respective firms have implemented a broad set of policies which are aimed in decreasing the spread of COVID-19 and reducing the risk of exposure. Most law firms are also providing an increase in technological resources for their lawyers and staff to enhance remote interactions and are encouraging this manner of interaction whenever possible. Each lawyer is working closely with their clients to determine the most appropriate method of communication based upon their client’s needs and circumstances.
With respect to technology, clients were already becoming increasingly comfortable in dealing with their professional service providers virtually. The pandemic required law firms to provide more services electronically – from client meetings to discoveries and mediations, to real estate signings. The feedback from clients has been remarkable, as clients have discovered the new methods in which lawyers and clients can connect is an efficient and cost–effective method.
Before COVID-19, clients were already becoming comfortable with dealing with firms electronically, and the capacity that all law firms are telling their clients they possess to do so will only increase comfort and efficiency.
The benefits of telecommuting go beyond video conferencing. The legal industry must now embrace the same technologies other industries have been leveraging for years. These changes speak to a shift in both the consumption and delivery of legal services from the client’s perspective.
The initial starting point for most firms was essentially that COVID-19 is a static situation (albeit a painful one both socially and financially), and once it is under control, things will return how things were. However, it being almost a year of living in the COVID-19 world, law firms have been forced to fundamental shift how the operation of a law firm runs, how its lawyers interact and remain diligent, and how to retain clients.
Lawyers are now working from home, with variable degrees of success, and firms are still carrying liabilities that are seemingly pointless. Firms will be required to focus on alternative structures and cost compliments. This may lead to firms downsizing, which may result in more telecommuting, which in turn may create alternative relationships between firms and their people, clients, and service providers
Law firms switching to cloud computing has opened many firms eyes to its benefits, including the ease of transition from office to home computing (with varying degrees of success), heightened cybersecurity (although costly), reduced equipment needs (but increasing personal costs), an independent third party updating of applications (outsourcing), reduced office space requirements (which decreases the need for employment), reduced disbursements to clients (no more travel, accommodations), etc.
In order for firms to be successful going into the future, they will have to shore up their current telecomputing arrangements and be in a position to deal effectively with lawyers, clients, and the courts.
Although there have been a few stumbles along the way, the technology transition so far seems to be the only silver lining during this global pandemic.