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After COVID-19 we can never go back | Gary Joseph

Wednesday, August 05, 2020 @ 8:20 AM | By Gary Joseph

Gary Joseph %>
Gary Joseph
The pandemic has most abruptly changed the legal landscape and the practice of family law. The speed within which change has occurred is breathtaking. I am often a severe critic of the court system, but I take this opportunity to extend sincere appreciation to those directing the change and most definitely to the court staff who are at the forefront of the recent innovations. Please, I beg you, let’s never go back to the old normal. Let me be more specific and more clear.

In all my following comments, I wish to address how change has enhanced our ability as family lawyers to bring better and more efficient service to our consuming public — individuals in the midst of some of the most difficult times of their lives. Family breakup is painful for all involved and can leave lasting emotional and financial damage to the participants and often immediately unseen trauma to children caught in the storm. Any improvement in the delivery of legal services can help to reduce the pain and the damage.

Let me begin with the miracle of electronic filing and virtual hearings. Almost overnight we have basically accomplished the impossible. Document filing electronically and document execution virtually. When I say “we” I mean not to take any credit for this but merely to acknowledge our collective involvement in this process.

Of even greater import is the ability to conduct virtual conferences and motions. The efficiency and convenience of this process is remarkable and the true beneficiary is the client. No one will convince me that we should go back to the old method for this (these) process(es). The client is “present”; the client is able to communicate directly with counsel privately and electronically during the hearing and is spared the often difficult task of face to face contact with the “ex.” With only a little more technology, judges will have the full court record available.

A huge “shout out” (at my age I am almost embarrassed to use that phrase) to the judges of our courts who have adapted and embraced the new procedures. Clients are better served, usually more comfortable, have to take less time away from work and/or the children and inevitably incur lower fees. Gone (I hope) are the days of lawyers hanging around court all day to argue a 40-minute motion with the need to bill the client for the full day. Perhaps revenue will be down but the upside is huge. Happier clients! As my late and dear former senior partner James C. MacDonald often told me, the best marketing is a happy client.

In my mind, I am not yet fully convinced that trials and/or long and complicated motions will be satisfactorily addressed virtually. However, I see us drifting positively in that direction and we may truly be able to overcome many of the technological hurdles. Even if we cannot, I am quite content to see trials and long motions go forward with in-person attendances secure in the knowledge that much of the lead-up can be accomplished in the earlier described virtual world. I note that very few family law matters reach the trial stage.

I urge my fellow members of the family law bar to push back (hard) at any attempt to return to the old “normal.” The new normal is far better for our clients. For those who know me and for those who work for me and with me, as strange as these words from my mouth appear, the new normal may assist us busy practitioners in achieving better work-life balance.

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

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