Accommodating COVID-19: How has the Legal Landscape Adapted to the Pandemic?
COVID-19 has played an active role in our daily dealings since it first became a palpable threat in early March of this year. Since then, almost every aspect of our lives have been affected by the virus: from gathering the courage to brave the grocery store to picking out just the right design for a new handmade face mask, it is safe to say this pandemic brought with it a number of unforeseen consequences.
Like countless others, the legal community has certainly been no stranger to these consequences. Deemed essential by the Canadian government, legal services navigated the new “normal” forced upon them by the pandemic. Some of COVID-19’s effects were felt locally, when most staff had no other option than to work from home simply to stay safe. But when the virus’ impact extended beyond the firms and into the courts, it affected the lives of those across the nation.
In March, “[a]ll civil and family matters scheduled for hearing between March 16, 2020 and May 1, 2020 [were] adjourned sine die [meaning “for an unlimited amount of time”] unless otherwise directed by the Court.” In June, Chief Justice Moreau held this decision. Only in July have in-person hearings begun to take shape again as new health and safety measures are being implemented into the courts.
Naturally, the shift from paper to digital has not been without its hurdles. Associates and assistants alike report a marked change in courthouse conduct. It seems that every aspect of the legal process has seen a delay as employees become acquainted with new expectations and constant updates. Standard paper filing that once took a couple of days has digitally taken up to a week to complete, touching the lives of all involved along the way.
But where there are issues, there are also those dedicated to finding solutions. Before long, ZOOM became a popular platform for questionings and 4-way meetings. Court documents even gained the "same force and effect" over e-mail and fax than they would “as if they [contained] an original signature.” Hybrid workplace models were born, and workers shortly discovered the pros and cons of working from home. In any case, life kept on and employees faced the struggle.
The legacy of these decisions has yet to be determined, but with how digital service has facilitated the legal process during this time, we have to wonder if it will stick around. Evidently, the circumstances imposed by COVID led to a wealth of creative solutions. As for their permanence? Only time will tell.
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