How COVID-19 has changed the way law is practiced in Toronto

TRNTO X dNOVO Group

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the global economy cannot be understated. When the coronavirus took hold, we witnessed the world change overnight, leaving almost all of us facing new workplace realities. The legal profession is no different.

Digital marketing agency dNOVO Group provides law firms with practice management strategies and web design, helping clients as they transition to a virtual way of doing business.  According to dNOVO founder Shamil Shamilov, it was important for lawyers to embrace emerging technology in the shift from the courtroom to the video screen. 

“The ability for firms and law practitioners to quickly embrace this kind of transition this year came with benefits: videoconferencing saves travel time and costs; meetings can be easier to schedule; and it is also more convenient for clients in most cases,” Shamilov says. 

However, for some lawyers, the technological pivot necessitated by social distancing protocols was not the only challenge. Losing clients quickly became a real possibility. Depending on the specialty of law practised, the pandemic either resulted in more business or much less.

Fewer accident claims

For example, when the government’s mandated shutdown went into effect in March 2020, the number of people who were able to work from home increased dramatically, which meant fewer vehicles on the road and a significant reduction in accident claims. These travel and work restrictions also cut the number of slip and fall cases.

Personal injury firms such as Grillo Law were forced to face that reality. As one of the largest personal injury practitioners in Ontario handling a large variety of claims, this firm was able to ride out the storm, but smaller teams found they had to reinvent themselves or flounder.

Postponed trials

The closing of courts also had an impact. The virtual courtroom has become the norm and lawyers have learned to adapt. But there is only so much that can be done online. Without access to jury panels, some criminal and civil trials have been continually postponed. And despite the hope mass vaccinations bring, there is no clear idea when courts can open for all cases and not just urgent matters.

Marital and parental conflicts

Still, family lawyers – who are among those affected by court closures – found themselves with as many files as before, if not more. That’s because working remotely puts many couples in close quarters for extended periods of time. 

Jobs were lost, couples were isolated and forced out of their regular routines. Many came to the realization that their marriages were no longer working. Since the start of the pandemic, lawyers from across Canada have been reporting a significant increase in the number of people looking to end their relationships. 

As well, those with shared parenting responsibilities turned to family lawyers to draw up new agreements to meet changing demands, especially when schools were closed. 

Real estate roller coaster

Meanwhile, COVID touched off a home-buying frenzy, with real estate lawyers along for the ride. It’s not only closings that necessitate a lawyer’s attention. In commercial leasing, tenants have been seeking advice to determine if the economic conditions brought about the coronavirus crisis entitled them to make an early exit. Residential landlord and tenant issues were also disputed as job losses resulted in some not being able to pay the rent.

Face to face challenges

The pandemic forced many people to take stock and finally take care of an important legal matter – drafting a will. When lockdowns were announced, estate lawyers reportedly were having a difficult time serving clients, meeting them in parking lots where documents were handed over and signed. However, provinces across the country instituted emergency regulations allowing for remote signing and witnessing of wills.

Mediators and arbitrators have also been able to soldier on during the pandemic despite the need for social distancing. While some argue that it is important to meet face-to-face, many mediators and arbitrators say they have learned to adjust to Zoom sessions and find them more convenient.

Employment and labour questions

If there is one aspect of the law that has seen an uptick in business, it is the employment and labour bar. COVID-19 has led to confusion in the workplace with new pandemic-related issues coming to the forefront.

From the right to lay off workers to employee disciplinary procedures, labour laws have received a thorough vetting through the employment lens. Court decisions on cases dealing with the pandemic have led to new precedents that will have a significant impact on employers and their workers. Evolving regulations have led to the need for companies to frequently review their workplace policies to ensure they reflect the ongoing changes.

As coronavirus restrictions ease and courts start to reopen, a surge of litigation is expected. Lawyers who have learned how to diversify will survive in the uncertain times that lay ahead.

 

Article exclusive to TRNTO