Nobody Told Me There’d Be Days Like These

Reflections on adaptations and durable change

Nobody Told Me There’d Be Days Like These

I wrote this article approximately a month and a half into the COVID-19 public health emergency. By the time you read it another month will have passed. As we have seen over the last several weeks, these are uncertain times with news, rules and recommendations changing daily. It is worth reflecting on where we came from, where we currently are, and where we might go.

Prior to this pandemic, people often said if we put a lawyer who practised 100 years ago into today’s courtroom, that lawyer would be pretty comfortable with the situation. I suggest, though, if you put that same lawyer into today’s law office the same would not be true. One hundred years ago, photocopiers didn’t exist. Fifty years ago, law offices had manual typewriters, fax machines were a relatively new innovation, and personal computers were under development. Twenty-five years ago, desktop computers were common, but email was a unique method of communication. Cellular phones were novel and were only phones. However, by 2020, email and smartphones have become ubiquitous. Further, in 2020, we can electronically file court documents, land titles documents and court rules permit electronic service of documents.

The government officially announced a public health emergency on March 17, 2020. Public health rules and recommendations evolved over the first week or two of the public health emergency. In BC, we are unable to have gatherings of more than 50 people until at least May 30, 2020 and we are strongly recommended to stay at home and practice physical distancing. As Branch President, I have had to change the way I’ve connected with our members. Instead of traveling the province I’ve been hosting virtual roundtables with lawyers across the province. I’ve heard how our members are adapting in the public health emergency and I’ve heard what our members would like the CBABC to advocate for to ensure we can continue to provide legal services to British Columbians.

The provincial government has deemed legal services, lawyers and paralegals as essential services, meaning law firms “should and are encouraged to remain open.” Law offices across the province have adapted different models for remote work: some offices remain open with skeletal crews on-site, some firms have scheduled who can be on-site on any given day, other firms are simply encouraging and supporting staff to work remotely were possible. Many firms have come to rely upon video conferencing technology for periodic team meetings, client meetings, etc. Video conferencing is now available for mediations and examinations for discovery. Law firms have also developed health and safety procedures for
in-person meetings, including sanitation protocols and physical distancing protocols. More and more law firms are accepting service by email. The courts have suspended regular operations, although urgent matters are being heard and the use of virtual hearings is increasing.

We don’t know how long we’ll be in a public health emergency. There is talk of three phases to a new normal: react, respond, and recover. As I write this article, we are in the “respond” stage and we remain so as you read this article. However, as we move into the recovery stage, I speculate about what durable change can and should come out of this public health emergency. Will we use video conferencing technology more in our day-to-day practice? Will we come to accept videoconferencing or teleconferencing as the normal way to conduct procedural hearings and applications? Will these changes make us more efficient as counsel? Will we embrace working remotely — either part of the time or all of the time? Will accepting service by email become the norm? While we can’t predict the future, I am optimistic we will see durable change and adaptation arise from this crisis.

Stay safe.  

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