Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic: Remote Service Delivery and Bridging the Digital Divide

The Law Foundation of BC funds a network of direct legal services that support low-income people facing legal challenges across British Columbia.

February 2022

The Law Foundation of BC funds a network of direct legal services that support low-income people facing legal challenges across British Columbia. As new public health orders came into effect to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the community-based agencies that host these services and their employees quickly pivoted to remote work. Having the right technology became crucial to ensuring continuity of service and to connecting with clients outside of the office environment.

As the pandemic went on, community-based agencies funded by the Law Foundation have been called on to provide increased services under very difficult circumstances. They have rallied to support clients needing to access brand new temporary income-security benefits, to provide accurate information about a temporary moratorium on evictions, and to ensure clients have the support they need as they navigate novel legal challenges. All the while, agencies and their staff have also had to grapple with their own ongoing crises and challenges, such as COVID-19 infections, unexpected childcare demands, and cancelled fundraising events.

Throughout the pandemic, Law Foundation of BC grantees have worked tirelessly to find ways to continue their work in a completely new environment. They have created video and other remote meeting options for those clients who have access to internet or phone and are comfortable using platforms like Zoom and MS Teams. Those innovations happened out of necessity, but they have allowed grantees to connect with more clients over greater geographic distances than ever before. At the same time, for clients who do not have, or cannot reasonably use, online and phone options, there is a risk of being left behind in the remote services, work-from-home environment. To meet the needs of clients with inequitable access to technology, Law Foundation grantees are evolving their services to bridge the growing digital divide. Whether by providing outdoor document signing meetings, setting up computer or phone access for clients, or collaborating with other organizations to support clients to login and participate in video processes, these agencies and their dedicated staff are rising to the challenge.

“COVID-19 has laid bare some of the ways in which legal and advocacy services need to evolve to meet the needs of people at the lowest end of the income spectrum,” says DJ Larkin, Director of Legal Service Grants. “The Foundation is excited to work with our direct legal services grantees and their clients to build more resilient and accessible technology solutions for these essential legal and advocacy services.”

The Law Foundation is committed to supporting our grantees in this evolution. We moved quickly to provide online training for advocates to ensure people providing frontline services have up-to-date skills and information, that webinars and online courses allow for more frequent training opportunities in rapidly shifting environments, and that digital presentations can easily be shared with people providing direct legal services anywhere in the province.

As we slowly return to in-person services, it will not be “back to normal” for Foundation-funded direct legal services. It is time to evolve to meet not only the COVID-19 challenge, but to ensure Foundation-funded direct legal and advocacy services are better able to provide services in a modern technology environment. Throughout 2022, the Law Foundation will be working with grantees on how to provide secure, agile, remote-accessible case management, and to explore how to increase accessibility of online services for clients across the province regardless of their individual access to technology.