President's Message: The OBA role in advancing modernization

  • June 02, 2020
  • Colin Stevenson

Colin StevensonWhen I laid out my practice innovation mandate last fall I was excited by the prospect of providing members with the resources and supports that they would need to adopt cutting-edge technologies and processes that improve efficiency, enhance the provision of legal services and, ultimately, increase access to justice. 

I knew that evolution was imperative for lawyers to remain relevant and trusted advisors in a rapidly changing business climate. I also knew that the OBA and our members could play a pivotal role in advancing modernization. What I didn’t know, of course, was just a few months later how accelerated the pace of change would become, how urgent the need to adapt, or how critical a role our Association would play.

These past few weeks have been harrowing for many, but I have been heartened by the way the profession and, in particular, OBA members and partners have come together to ensure uninterrupted access to justice and legal services. What has impressed me most is the agility of this Association and our engaged volunteer base which has delivered the essential priority PD programming, up-to-the-minute justice sector updates and resources to help our members navigate the continually changing conditions of the COVID-19 crisis.

No one anticipated this upheaval. The fact that the OBA was able to respond so quickly and contribute so meaningfully is a testament to the infrastructure already in place, the core values we hold, and a community connection we cultivate. I have seen these forces combine in countless ways over recent weeks, but a few examples spring i to mind:

  • In a tumultuous time, the OBA has been able to speak for lawyers with an authoritative voice, providing sound advice and advocating for practical solutions in conversations with justice sector partners, thanks to our network of dedicated and experienced public affairs liaisons across all practice areas.
  • Our longstanding commitment to lawyer wellness has found a new outlet during an anxiety-laced period with our Mindful Moment emails – a daily mental health tip, mindfulness exercise or laugh that reminds us all to take a breather, to focus on something positive, and to keep our hope, humour, empathy and sense of perspective alive. In concert with new OBA Mindful Lawyer programs, these missives have given us vital coping and self-care strategies.
  • As an innovation champion I have been extraordinarily proud of the leadership the OBA has demonstrated in ‘connectivity’, providing lawyers with the technology, tools and assistance they need to continue practising remotely. Members have utilized our virtual boardrooms to conduct firm and client meetings and our remote Arbitration and Mediation package to conduct worry-free sessions with a concierge service that includes set-up, training, scheduling and technical support. 

It is not only lawyers who have taken advantage of OBA connectivity offerings and expertise. When the College of Chiropractors of Ontario became the first regulated health profession to hold two discipline hearings using Zoom videoconferencing just a couple of weeks ago, they used the OBA concierge service. The OBA has also been pleased to provide the Superior Court of Justice with almost 300 Virtual Courtrooms. This has allowed the courts to remain open for urgent hearings while our physical courthouses remain closed.

The cohesive and constructive collaboration within the justice sector has helped all of us weather the uncertainty. It has also produced resources that will carry us forward as we continue to innovate and adapt – to rebound and recover – together. The Best Practices for Remote Hearings, for instance, which came out of the e-Hearings Task Force that the OBA co-chaired along with TAS, FOLA and OTLA, is now the go-to resource for anyone preparing for and participating in a remote hearing.

Notwithstanding, and perhaps to some degree because of, these very trying circumstances, we have discovered that as a profession we are more nimble and resilient than we may have thought, and that as a community the OBA is just as powerful a driver of progress as I imagined at the outset of my term.