Focus On

Ontario law society CEO says COVID-19 ‘opens all of our eyes’ on how to be more efficient

Monday, April 27, 2020 @ 9:21 AM | By Amanda Jerome

The Law Society of Ontario (LSO) has implemented a long list of measures in response to COVID-19. From working with justice partners to establishing a will drafting legal service for doctors to providing financial and annual report filing relief measures, the regulator has been changing processes and providing practice directions while working remotely.

Details of the law society’s COVID-19 response were presented in a report by its CEO, Diana Miles, at the first virtual Convocation, held on April 23 using the Zoom platform. The Convocation was not accessible to the public or media, but the agenda and reports were made available online before the meeting.

Diana Miles, CEO of the LSO

The report outlined 15 areas where the LSO has established a response to the pandemic since March 16, when the regulator enabled virtual operations for its staff.

Miles told The Lawyer’s Daily that the work the LSO has done with justice sector partners to create “virtual commissioning, notarizing and client ID [verification],” as well the execution of wills, has involved many people throughout the legal profession to “make that happen.”

“That’s really important work that’s really moved us as a regulator, and the profession as a whole, forward quite a few steps. It’s amazing how nimble we can all be when a crisis sets upon us and we have to think outside of the box,” she said.

She noted that usually any processes that require legislative change can be challenging, but the government and ministries have worked quickly with justice partners to create solutions during the pandemic.

“Everyone has really stepped up and it’s happened very quickly in the larger scheme of things,” she said.

Miles’ report also highlights the law society’s efforts to encourage remote business models for the legal profession during the pandemic and the transition to electronic forms (such as complaints forms, licence-related applications and annual report filings) at the LSO.

The CEO noted that the law society’s FAQ page for COVID-19 has been a resource with “a lot of information” for the professions as they try to adjust. The FAQ page highlights adjustments to client communications; limitation periods; executing wills and powers of attorney; managing practice interruptions; cybersecurity risks; retainer agreements; contingency fee agreements; and health and safety requirements.

“I definitely believe that we, as will all of us in the legal administrative system, will step back from this and ask ourselves how we’re able to make our activities and our processes more streamlined, more efficient. Because everything can be, as we’ve learned, far more timely,” Miles said about how the pandemic will change the law society’s business operations moving forward.

“I think we can, as a regulator, take a close look at our policies and our processes and ask ourselves, from a risk management perspective, how much we really need to apply those policies in circumstances of just a regular practice management environment, never mind a crisis management environment,” she added, stressing that the primary objective of the law society is to protect the public against harm.

“I think we can streamline. I think the profession can help us to figure out how best to revise our policies so that they’re both effective in the public interest, but also effective from a practice management perspective. I think this just opens all of our eyes to understanding that there are lots of really good conversations that we can have about how to make things a little more efficient for everyone, including the client,” she added.

Miles noted the strain the pandemic has had on the courts, which have had to move to virtual operations in a short amount of time. She said this has had a “huge toll” on lawyers and paralegals who work predominately in the court system.

Miles also said the impact of COVID-19 on the profession “isn’t even” and some areas of practice have been hit harder than others.

“Helping those people to find a balance in the interim is probably key for all of us because we want the professions to be healthy and we want clients to be able to find those lawyers and paralegals after this crisis is over,” she added.

Other adjustments the law society has made due to the pandemic involve pushing back timelines, such as the postponement of the Annual General Meeting and deferring recruitment for articling positions.

The 2021-2022 articling recruitment timelines for “all markets and employers” has been deferred. According to an update on the LSO website, all “current recruitment timelines are to be postponed while the law society continues to consult with stakeholders to determine the most equitable and timely route forward for all participants.”

A revised recruitment procedures and timelines update will be provided by the regulator by May 15. According to the LSO’s website, the revised recruitment procedures will “update application deadlines, interview timelines, provide direction on offers of employment, and information on the period of time that such offers may remain open.”

On April 23, the LSO announced that the “minimum required length of articling placements will be temporarily reduced from 10 months to 8 months for candidates commencing articling placements in the 2020-2021 licensing cycle.”

Miles also told The Lawyer’s Daily that the first virtual Convocation was closed to the public and the media because the law society was figuring out how to use the platform with its large group of benchers.

“I would imagine that as we move forward, we’ll start to open these things up, but it is a little more complicated to do that on the Zoom environment than it would otherwise be. But this was a good foray. I think it went well for everyone. Everyone was fairly comfortable, and I think we’ll evolve from there,” she explained.

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