Can You Hear Me Now?

Practising law within the digital divide

Can You Hear Me Now?

Like anything else, the business of lawyering changes with time, and, more often than not, it is advances in technology that propel these changes. Those living in the interior or northern regions of British Columbia are no strangers to change, but when it comes to technological change, we have grown accustomed to disjointed and bumpy rollouts that are a couple steps behind our friends in the larger centres. For lawyers practising in the interior or northern regions of British Columbia, this digital divide has created new opportunities, but also new challenges in serving clients.

At the outset, it should be said that there is a huge need for digital infrastructure in the large and relatively sparsely populated interior and northern regions of this province. Everyone here can benefit from high-speed Internet and cellphone coverage; however, the reality is that this technology is not universally available. Despite the availability gap, the benefits of connectivity are manifest to interior and northern law firms and have allowed for a transformation in how they provide legal services. Here’s how:

Transitioning to the Cloud

Cloud solutions for practice management programs, data storage and office productivity software have all lessened fixed IT costs and made it easier to start or scale up a practice. In place of procuring and servicing dedicated hardware and software, which can be difficult in a small centre, nearly any computer can run cloud-based practice management software like Clio or office productivity software like Office 365. These relatively inexpensive programs make it easier to go paperless, send an email, store and retrieve data and to send documents to a client from almost any location. Concomitant with these changes, clients also now expect quicker responses and quicker access to their file.

Interior and northern firms may also leverage Chrome Remote Desktop to efficiently transition to remote work and facilitate out of office client meetings.

Effortless E-Filing and Remote Court Appearances

Rural practitioners used to have to retain a registry agent or process server to file routine documents in offices or court registries located in larger or distant communities. The availability of e-filing services has made it easier to file documents while avoiding the considerable costs of agents and couriers. It has also reduced the time necessary to complete many transactions, which has, again, led to shifting client expectations respecting the time and cost necessary to complete certain matters.

Rural barristers practice has also been aided by the transition to increased remote court appearance. Prior to changes brought on by COVID, it was common to travel to courthouses throughout the interior and northern regions for remand days and other short matters. Remote appearances have lessened the need for time travel, though at the cost of being able to meet with clients or counsel at the courthouse.

Access to Justice Without Internet Access

The ability to take advantage of the above-mentioned technologies, is however, constrained by the availability of the necessary infrastructure. Unfortunately, many residents in the interior and northern regions, particularly in smaller outlying communities and First Nations reserves, do not have access to high-speed Internet or cellphone service. For these clients, it may not be possible to attend meetings or court remotely, obtain copies of documents digitally or even regularly call their lawyer. Further exasperating the problem, the interior and northern communities do not have as many support resources these clients can turn to for help accessing technology. As the practice of law continues to go digital, those without access to digital infrastructure will be further disadvantaged.