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Lessons from the pandemic | Jennifer Lynch and Margot Mary Davis

Wednesday, March 10, 2021 @ 12:56 PM | By Jennifer Lynch and Margot Mary Davis


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Jennifer Lynch
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Margot Mary Davis
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic. The pandemic drastically altered many individuals’ lives. People could no longer do many day-to-day activities like meet up with friends. The world went virtual. New terminology entered the lexicon like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve.” 

COVID-19 particularly impacted the job market. Pre-pandemic, 10 per cent of Canadians worked from home; now, it is 40 per cent of Canadians. Unfortunately, many individuals lost their jobs or had their hours reduced. Ontario lost over 300,000 jobs in 2020 which is the highest loss on record. 

The new normal has particularly affected lawyers. Two-thirds of lawyers reported changes to their “primary area of practice” and the practice of law has been dramatically altered. For example, Ontario now permits the electronic administering of oaths. Regardless of how one feels about the pandemic’s impact on the legal profession, it is the current reality and lawyers will have to positively react. Below, we discuss some smart ways lawyers should act in response to the pandemic.

Adapting to new technologies

Critics have oft-criticized the legal profession as being hostile to change and technology. The COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing have forced the legal industry to adopt 21st century technologies. Similar to our previous comments, Ontario now allows virtual commissioning and the Ontario Court of Justice said that trials should be conducted via videoconference or audioconference. 

Any change will receive both praise and criticism. While virtual commissioning and trials have been praised for saving costs, many have criticized them. Some argue that virtual trials raise technology concerns (freezing, mute button), and concerns about not being able to read body language. Online commissioning is correlated with a higher risk of fraud and identity theft. 

Since the policies are the “new normal,” lawyers must learn how to best conduct virtual trials and lawyers, who are notaries, must mitigate the risk of fraud. Lawyers should consult practice resources like the Guide for Newly Appointed Commissioners for Taking Affidavits and the law society’s page on “Remote Commissioning” which contains a helpful checklist. The Canadian Bar Association and The Advocates’ Society have free guides online about best practices for virtual trials.

Being continuous learner, diversifying skill set

It was always important to be a continuous learner and to diversify one’s skill set; this is especially true during COVID-19. The new normal has particularly negatively impacted some areas of law like traffic or criminal law and many lawyers are considering changing their primary area of practice. A 2020 study conducted by LexisNexis Canada revealed that approximately 35 per cent of lawyers either “anticipated” or “expected” shifting their area of practice due to COVID-19. Lawyers will need to learn the intricacies and best practices of these areas of law via mentoring, CPD courses and consulting academic resources.

Transitioning to online networking

Coffee networking and networking dinners are no longer but the need to network still exists. With Twitter often home to unproductive conversations and Facebook being quite informal, LinkedIn is probably the best platform for online networking.

Lawyers who do not have LinkedIn should strongly consider acquiring it. Over 120 million people have gotten job interviews from connections on LinkedIn and over 35 million people have been hired by a LinkedIn connection. It is also important that lawyers who use LinkedIn get the most out of their subscription. A user with a professional photograph will get 14 times more views and a user who lists at least five relevant skills is 31 times more likely to be messaged. Lawyers should not passively use LinkedIn; rather, they should be positively and constructively engaging with fellow lawyers and people outside the profession.

Time for self-care

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, lawyers already had higher rates of mental illness than the general population. The new normal has exacerbated this trend. Lawyers should make time for self-care. For example, lawyers should try to exercise regularly which is associated with reduced anxiety. Additionally, lawyers should avoid excessive caffeine which is correlated with heightened anxiety. Since social isolation can lead to depression, lawyers should try to keep in contact with friends and family. They could video chat with them on a monthly basis or call them. If an Ontario lawyer needs professional help, they can seek free and confidential help from the Member Assistance Program.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered many professions and this is particularly true for lawyers. Lawyers need to adapt their practices and professional networking to the new normal. The need for continuous learning, the need to diversify one’s skill set and the need self-care has never been stronger.

Hopefully, we can all meet up soon!
 
Jennifer Lynch is an accomplished forensic accountant and business owner. Jennifer is a Chartered Professional Accountant, Certified Management Accountant and a Certified Fraud Examiner who has a reputation for expertise, quality service to clients and professionalism. You can reach her on LinkedIn. Margot Mary Davis is a 2018 Ontario call to the bar. She is interested in policy issues surrounding law like combating counterfeit goods and developing sui generis policies for orphan drugs. She is also a published author.

Interested in writing for us? To learn more about how you can add your voice to The Lawyer’s Daily, contact Analysis Editor Peter Carter at peter.carter@lexisnexis.ca or call 647-776-6740.