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Wellness: My post-COVID hopes for the profession | Darryl Singer

Monday, April 27, 2020 @ 8:41 AM | By Darryl Singer


Darryl Singer %>
Darryl Singer
Our profession has and will continue to suffer as a result of the COVID-19 public health crisis. From small boutique firms to large national firms, many have been forced to lay off staff, take on additional debt and forgo partner draws. Solo practitioners, particularly those whose income is dependent on Legal Aid or working clientele and a fully operational court system, have had much of their work dry up.

When things do resume to some sense of normalcy, and it appears this is unlikely to happen before July, it will still be many months until their workload and income returns to normal. Moreover, lawyers, particularly litigators, are by nature social creatures. The lack of real human interaction is difficult. For those already suffering from addiction or mental health issues, idleness, boredom and lack of structure are the gasoline on the fires of their struggles. However, there is some good that can come from all of this, and that’s what I have been thinking of lately.

Here are the five lessons I hope our profession takes from the pandemic:

1. Use of technology in our practice 

There is no reason why short meetings with clients or opposing counsel need to be in person. Most of us been just as productive in those meetings by telephone and videoconference. In fact, in some ways productivity is increased because we simply hang up the phone or log off Zoom and get on to the next task, without having to commute to the next meeting. And while a Zoom discovery is not quite as good as attending at a reporters’ office, when all parties are not in the same city it should become the norm before incurring the time and cost of travel.

2. Use of technology by courts

Similarly, with the courts there is no reason why routine and brief court appearances such as scheduling court, case conferences, consent motions, bail hearings, simply contested motions, pretrials and brief urgent motions cannot be done by phone or videoconference.

3. E-mail  

It’s 2020. Why are people still faxing and snail mailing? Since we started to work remotely, everyone, even the dinosaurs, have learned to use e-mail. Let’s keep moving into the future by changing the Rules of Civil Procedure to make service by e-mail acceptable and digital/e-mail court filing the norm.

4. Priorities

We have learned that it doesn’t matter if the non-urgent matter gets briefly adjourned. We were reminded that spending time with family is more important than any file. The connection with those close to us has likely strengthened during these times. Let’s not throw that all away by rushing back to our normal workaholic state.

5. Civility 

I have complained for years (sounding not unlike Larry David at his worst) about how in the course of my career civility amongst counsel gets worse every year and it’s never been worse than at this point in time. Except suddenly it wasn’t. It instantly became better than it had been in years. Counsel, who prior to March 16 could not agree on the most basic of things, began to realize that unless we work together the files cannot move forward, and this begat co-operation. Counsel who might never have spent more than a few minutes posturing about the file on a call were spending time on the phone with opposing counsel just talking ... about life, working from home, our hopes for the profession etc. Newfound respect for one’s peers and new friendships have been forged.

This is a difficult and stressful profession at the best of times. And these may be the worst of times for our profession. But there is a silver lining. If we all remember the civility that developed during the pandemic, we can move forward with a profession that is friendlier and more efficient. This will make lawyers happier, increase access to justice, and allow us to represent our clients better than ever.

Darryl Singer is head of commercial and civil litigation at Diamond & Diamond Lawyers LLP in Toronto and thinks he may never leave his home office and sit in traffic again.

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