Canadian Lawyer

June 2020

The most widely read magazine for Canadian lawyers

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Page 32 of 51 31 out of this see that happening more often," she says. Cabel's most recent mediation — hours before she spoke with Canadian Lawyer — consisted of a mediator and an opposing counsel in Ottawa and she and her client in Toronto. Pre-COVID, Cabel had planned to travel with her client to Ottawa to take part. "It does reduce the travel time and the costs and hours that counsel has to put in," she says. Devlin's firm, DGW Law Corporation, shut down in mid-March. The firm's network is cloud based and, because of the nature of its practice, going remote was an easy transition. "Because we work for Indigenous communities, we're already quite mobile. We go to our clients, they rarely come to us," he says. "Most of the lawyers and some of the legal assistants are already portable and can work remotely." But while his lawyers are comfortable going remote, not all his clients are. "Some clients are more inclined to use online platforms than others, and in many Indigenous communities, people gathering and coming together in person is actually quite important," Devlin says. In estate planning, physical distancing has made effective connection with clients more difficult, says Lyle. Her office has been "relying heavily" on web conferencing because phone calls cannot suffice. With older clients, statistically more likely to have memory loss, dementia and other health issues, seeing the client while speaking to them is important, she says. Jordan agrees. Virtual mediation in her family law files raises a host of concerns. In high-conflict cases, the ability to read body language is largely sacrificed in web conferencing. As a mediator, it's Jordan's job to ensure that it's a safe environment and navigating power imbalances and intimate- partner violence during an online mediation is currently a "huge learning curve," she says. Lyle and co-founder Jamie Angus opened Touchstone Legal in October of last year, partly with the purpose of creating a more mobile practice management style. Angus is a mother of five and a flexible work arrangement was integral to their objective and allowed them to pivot when COVID hit. "On one hand, it's completely terrifying to start up a practice right when this is happening," says Lyle. "At the same time, I'm in a much better position because of this new firm than I would have been had this happened this time last year." Although the utility of working from home has long been apparent, Lyle says it has been tabooed in an industry focused on appearances. She sees that changing. "There's going to be a lot more openness to people working from home without judgment from clients as well as others," Lyle says. "In the law firms — certainly in the bigger law firms where optics are ever important — people working from home all the time is not something that's necessarily favoured by some of the older-school lawyers and some of the younger ones, too. . . . I'm hoping this will change that sort of optic for everybody." Eventually, social distancing and mandatory business closures will be over. But, according to Furlong, the legal profession will never be the same. "What we would have called normal back in January, February — by the time this pandemic has truly run its course — will be gone," says Furlong. "We're not going back to the way things used to be. And that applies politically. It applies economically. It applies environmentally. And it applies to a much smaller and less significant part of the world called the legal sector." For example, working from home will fray the tie between the legal profession and the billable hour, says Furlong. He believes there's a correlation between lawyers working from home and lawyers docketing fewer hours. "There are all sorts of structural and cultural systems in place inside a law firm that are constantly reminding lawyers to docket their time and pass in their dockets," he says. "By the way, the fact that we need to have so many different systems, forcing lawyers to write down how long it took them to do their work and to pass it into a central billing authority should tell you just how unnatural and how unnecessary it feels to the lawyer. Lawyers are not fundamentally clock punchers. "There's a reason so many lawyers keep leaving more lucrative jobs in law firms and going in-house with a company or in-house with a with it with a government department" "There's going to be a lot more openness to people working from home without judgment from clients." Jessica Lyle, Touchstone Legal Inc. "On the positive side of the ledger, our firm has been able to clear up significant backlog in terms of the perfection of appeals and the writing of factums." Richard Posner, Lockyer Campbell Posner

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