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Law school, new technologies and access to justice | Jasmine Taillefer

Thursday, September 03, 2020 @ 8:43 AM | By Jasmine Taillefer

Jasmine Taillefer %>
Jasmine Taillefer
With the current pandemic, law students in Canada have faced new and unfamiliar challenges in regard to their academic and professional journey. Consequently, this present-day reality is constantly impacting the future of the legal profession. As a JD student myself, I had to navigate a law career while dealing with the global pandemic leading to many reflections and interrogations concerning the future reality of Canadian jurists. This article will discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on law students, which law faculties and stakeholders should take into consideration.

From an educational point of view, students had to use new technologies to participate in classes and to complete exams. For my part, all live sessions, exams and meetings were held on the online platform Microsoft Teams. From the outset, various technical issues made it difficult to attend or to follow classes. As a result, online students were forced to exercise patience and perseverance. This can be beneficial for the development of technology in the legal field as students have worked extensively with new platforms and have found creative ways to carry out their research and study.

Thus, legal databases such as LexisNexis (owners of The Lawyer’s Daily), WestLaw, HeinOnline and many more are constantly used for the benefit of students. Legal work is now less time consuming and more in-depth than ever. Technology will have a big impact in the legal field as future lawyers are more comfortable with these new technologies. This could change the way universities and law firms operate.

The legal system as a whole has definitely become more aware of mental health issues due to COVID-19. Many law schools offered financial and psychological support during these difficult times. However, mental health is not a new issue, it has been a prominent, ongoing problem among law students long before the pandemic. Although universities offered assistance to faculties, I believe it is time to remove the institutional stigma surrounding mental health in the legal field.

Students are dealing with stress and anxiety because of issues related to academic performance or job satisfaction. Thus, the possibility of getting an offer from a recognized law firm requires a strong academic profile, which could hinder the mental health of law students. In this regard, the well-being of law students should be prioritized as it can be beneficial for universities and employers. Rather than denying those struggling with mental health due to performance pressures, law stakeholders should implement well-being and mental health programs which could lead to gains and benefits in the long run. In reality, healthy working habits reduce the risk of health issues and burnouts among students and employees.

From a professional point of view, I believe current law students dealing with the pandemic are more aware about access to justice. As COVID-19 impacted many Canadians economically, there is a consensus in Canada that we have a serious problem regarding access to justice. The costs and delays associated with the traditional process deny ordinary people the opportunity to have adjudication. As such, there needs to be a cultural shift in the justice system. In addition, our legal system requires some prominent changes, and law students dealing with the pandemic have the potential to solve flaws regarding the inaccessible justice system. Section 4-1 of the Canadian Model Code of Professional Conduct highlights that a lawyer must make legal services available to the public efficiently and conveniently and may offer legal services to a prospective client by any means.

Lawyers can improve access to justice by participating in the Legal Aid plan and lawyer referral services and by engaging in programs of public information, education or advice concerning legal matters, or by providing services pro bono and reducing or waiving a fee. Since law students are more in touch with access to justice issues, they might be more inclined to perform mandatory pro bono work in their future profession. Otherwise, law students can simply bring awareness to their surroundings. As litigation is not always the right answer to find justice, publicly speaking on other solutions such as alternative dispute resolutions (ADR) is a valuable tool for societal change.

Although COVID-19 led to some hardship for current law students, this new reality has changed their upbringing in regard to their academic and professional journey. New technologies are impacting the way we are functioning, bringing new creative solutions to legal issues. Mental health seems to be a necessary and important matter that should be prioritized among law stakeholders. Thus, the well-being of students and lawyers positively affects the justice system.

Finally, more students are motivated to work for the improvement of access to justice. Thus, these reflections are favourable for the justice system for what lies ahead.

Jasmine Taillefer obtained an LL.B. and JD from Université de Sherbrooke and is currently completing her professional training at the École du Barreau du Québec.

Illustration by Chris Yates/Law360

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