Hoping for Normality Post-COVID
It has been a strange and challenging year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have seen many rapid changes to the justice system and the practice of law in that past year, to cope with the new, socially-distanced reality in which we all find ourselves.
Some of these changes have been very positive, despite the unfortunate catalyst for them. We have moved to an almost entirely electronic civil justice system, with most service, document exchange, and court filings now being done digitally. I certainly will not miss cumbersome and slow-moving paper briefs and documents.
Many of the changes are a mix of positive and negative aspects. Virtual examinations and hearings, rarely done before COVID-19, now account for the vast majority of proceedings. While these are certainly more convenient for everyone involved, the formality and gravity of the proceeding, which tends to instill in witnesses (and counsel) a respect for the truth-finding process, can sometimes be lost.
As an extreme example, I recently participated in a virtual examination in which a deponent connected to the videoconference from a phone mounted to the dashboard of his transport truck, which he was obviously driving.
Although he claimed to be prepared to proceed with the examination, it was horrifying watching him try to address the videoconference while also watching the road (we quickly terminated the examination). It was also clear that the significance of this litigation event was lost on this would-be deponent in a way that it would not have been had he been compelled to attend for it at a reporting centre.
The most significant change for many has been working from home full-time. This, too, is mix of positives and negatives. I certainly do not miss the subway, and the time I would have spent commuting I can now spend either catching up on work, or with my family. Not having to put a suit on everyday is a plus as well.
However, all of this has come at the expense of the office culture and the invaluable connections with colleagues that used to occur regularly throughout the day. There is no virtual substitute for that incredible resource.
We have learned a lot through the crucible of the past year. We have learned how to practice law, and continue the pursuit of justice, in an entirely digital space. Many of these lessons will serve us well even after the pandemic is over and life returns to some semblance of normality. But I, for one, look forward to returning to at least some of the old ways.