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COVID-19: Family law going forward | Gary Joseph

Friday, March 20, 2020 @ 11:25 AM | By Gary Joseph

Gary Joseph %>
Gary Joseph
The rush to find alternate ways to assist clients is remarkable. The level of suffering from this pandemic is undeniable but for the family law bar, adversity has spawned a reinvigorated effort to find ways to move matters forward, creatively craft dispute resolution methods and work towards settlement.

I have long maintained that the family law bar and lawyers in general have for too long suffered undue criticism, wrongly directed at them. Yes, there are a few bad apples but very few. For the most part, the family law bar and for that matter the family law industry, is made up of hard-working individuals, most with a sense of deep responsibility to their clients.

A few days ago I commented that for every setback there is opportunity. From a family law perspective, I am seeing that opportunity recognized. Various family law bars have self-organized resolution groups. Lawyers have, on a pro bono basis, drafted litigation management arbitration agreements with volunteer lawyers offering greatly discounted rates to assist their fellow members of the bar in addressing disputed procedural matters. This is with a view to having cases ready to jump forward free of these time-delaying minor disputes once the courts reopen.

Family mediators and arbitrators are crafting virtual rooms for mediation and arbitration, strictly observing the very necessary social distancing demands of the COVID-19 crisis. Hard working judges are making themselves available from home for conference calls and I am advised that at the highest levels the courts are speeding forward with efforts to provide for “no attendance” adjudication. Lawyers who never thought to use Zoom and Skype are receiving pro bono instruction from senior members of the bar to assist in their use.

As a long-time silent critic (is there such a thing) of the Ontario Bar Association, I am most impressed with their immediate response to this crisis and the wide-ranging and free package of virtual services offered to the bar. Every family lawyer should immediately access their website to see what is offered.

The crisis of COVID-19 will pass and we will all return to some level of normalcy. However, from this health, economic and cultural setback (obviously far too weak a descriptive) has emerged a new willingness to engage modern technology in the pursuit of family law resolution. When the dust settles, I fully expect the leaders of our bar to reach out to justice authorities to engage in the long overdue task of modernizing our court system to better serve the public. In the end a restoration of public confidence in the overall justice system can only be positive.

Finally, I hope that family law professionals will more proudly engage the public in the benefits of their services. I close noting that while my lens is restricted to family law, I understand that other specialities are engaged in crafting similar options to better serve the public. This all is in the finest traditions of the bar.

Gary S. Joseph is the managing partner at MacDonald & Partners LLP, family law practitioners.

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