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2020: A difficult year that will help move justice system forward | Charlene Theodore

Wednesday, December 16, 2020 @ 8:55 AM | By Charlene Theodore

Charlene Theodore %>
Charlene Theodore
How do we best describe the events of 2020? Countless news articles have already documented the torment of the pandemic. The pain of racial inequality brought to light once again by the senseless deaths of Black and Indigenous people has made more people keen to leave this past year in the rear view mirror.

Lawyers have certainly not been immune to this. This year many of us saw our homes become workplaces and the already delicate balancing act of parenting and lawyering became still more difficult. Some suffered even more profound career and personal consequences.

The year 2020 was also the year we said goodbye to the status quo in our justice sector. When our courts shut down, there was a tremendous fear that our system would be put on indefinite pause, further derailing an overburdened court system and putting the needs of our clients at risk.

But we could not let the story play out that way. The courts responded and we at the Ontario Bar Association — under the leadership of then-president Colin Stevenson — reacted swiftly. With lawyers and the entire legal system thrust into a new world of virtual meetings and hearings, we combined our vast experience with the legal system and innovative technology to provide tools and services to lead us through that difficult time, while providing a blueprint for the way forward.

This crisis has given us an opportunity to ask ourselves: What is truly necessary for procedural fairness, open courts, for the secure exchange of documents, for accessibility and efficiency? When it comes to the administration of justice, have we been given the chance to write a new story?

With the profession finally seeing improvements in technology adaption and enjoying the benefits that modernization brings, this is our opportunity to set out the terms for how lawyers and technology can work together for the benefit of clients. While investments in technology are crucial, modernization is about more than this.

This philosophy is part of my mandate as president of the OBA. My Work That Works initiative is all about looking at our workplaces from a variety of angles and striking the right balance between what often seem to be competing interests. How technology and human potential will mix in future legal workplaces is a critical component. Technology has the potential to help us improve both service to the public and practice feasibility.

While this is a powerful combination, the human touch necessary for client service and healthy workplaces cannot be forgotten. We have to shape the future of the lawyer-technology partnership in a balanced fashion. We should take every opportunity to improve accessibility and service to the public with the knowledge that not everything that is technologically possible is necessarily optimal.

With 2020 winding down, let’s look at how we can continue to build on the positive changes we saw during the year. I believe, if we commit to what needs to be done, and dedicate the time and resources needed, we can come out the other side with sustainable, profitable and equitable workplaces.

The modernization we’ve seen in the justice sector will carve a path for future efforts in adapting to artificial intelligence and automation. This presents a golden opportunity for lawyers to have more time to do what we do best, and better serve the public.

The OBA will continue to be a voice for the profession as we look ahead. If we seize this moment, we can embrace technology and use it to build efficiencies so that lawyers can better apply their time, energy and unique skillset to better serve clients, while building their business.

Charlene Theodore is president of the Ontario Bar Association. A workplace lawyer with a background in public policy and government relations, she serves as in-house counsel to one of Ontario’s largest teachers associations.

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