“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” - Winston Churchill.
Yes, in the title of this article I wrote that law practice has – and will – change thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. Churchill’s words above rang true in 1942 during a conflict that required as much societal and economic effort as Covid-19 now demands from all of us. Churchill’s words also ring true today, particularly for pushing law practice and technology forward. It is not “even the beginning of the end” of how technology and Covid-19 are changing the practice of law, but it is “perhaps, the end of the beginning” of the changes that are needed to improve access to justice and make law practice more cost-effective and accessible to everyone.
As lawyers, change is upon us whether or not we wanted it. “Normal” life as we knew it before Covid-19 is likely forever changed, even after social distancing ends. The end of World War II ushered in a different world than the one that came before, an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity for most of the world. Similarly, the pandemic will likely bring with it a better legal system for practitioners, clients, stakeholders, and courts alike.
Covid-19 is forcing us to use videoconferencing, teleconferencing, and teleworking technologies more than ever before. This is allowing urgent matters to proceed virtually before provincial and federal courts alike despite social distancing.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice issued directives on April 2, 2020, to have its criminal, family, and civil matters proceed by telephone or videoconference where possible. The Court initially only allowed urgent proceedings to move forward, but wisely decided to allow more matters to proceed during the pandemic. While this relies heavily on members of the bar and their clients working cooperatively, Chief Justice Morawetz recently confirmed that the measures are working well so far.
Meanwhile, the Federal Court of Canada is also allowing certain cases to proceed by telephone or videoconference if they are deemed urgent or if the parties consent. The Court is also currently allowing remote commissioning of affidavits and service of documents by email.
These changes are some examples of how government and courts are ensuring that access to justice is maintained using technology. While the measures are temporary, some of them ought not to be.