Written by Jason Howie
It’s easy to see the many downsides of COVID-19. The headlines blare it every day: Death rates. Infection rates. Hospitalization rates. Shutdowns. Isolation.
The purpose of this blog is not to minimize any of that. Anybody that does is, well, an idiot. And I won’t even qualify that statement with, “In my opinion…”
As a family law practitioner, I see the impact of the pandemic reflected in my clients every day:
- People are a little “on edge”
- People are lonely
- Those people who are grieving have to do so privately
- Patience has become more scarce
In short, the general mental health of our community has taken a body blow.
We just weren’t created to be cloistered. We are social people. We choose to live in a society, around other people. Prior to COVID-19, we all had the option to live a more secluded life and we chose not to for a reason. I know we’re all looking forward to the day we can once again see friends and family and resume some semblance of our lives before the pandemic struck.
The Legal System Adapts Due to COVID-19
Despite the havoc and tragedy of the past year, our new circumstances have necessitated some incredible improvements in how we practice law, and family law specifically. The improvements are dramatic, and this cannot be overlooked, or we will revert to our old ways as soon as we are able.
To be clear, I am in no way suggesting that the improvements outweigh the catastrophe of the pandemic. I’m simply pointing out the fact that our legal system, which has been historically slow to change its ways, has had to adapt quickly to the current reality. As a result, it’s never been more efficient for both lawyers and their clients.
Here is a list, in no particular order, of the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has caused improvements:
- Justice system, meet technology. The personal attendance of the parties and lawyers in a courtroom or other venue has always been central to the justice system. It was central because it was more convenient for the system itself. Need to have a conference? Simply have everybody come to the building. Need to speak to two lawyers for five minutes? Simply have them come to the building. Need to “stack” several cases in one timeslot? Simply have people wait their turn…in the building. The pandemic has caused the government to spend serious money on bringing the court system to the 21st Clients no longer have to take entire days off work in order to attend a one-hour conference. Lawyers no longer have to waste time biding their time in courthouse hallways. These are good things.
- Technology isn’t for everyone, but it is for a lot of people. I can’t tell you how many people a day would come to my office to drop off paperwork, documents and other items. Perhaps it was the security of hand delivery. Maybe it was an excuse to get away for a few minutes to run an errand; I don’t know. But I can say this: I do not recall any client saying to me in the last six months, “Gee whiz, I wish that I could come to your office rather than send you an email attachment”.
- For those people with an aversion to technology, the technology has gotten simpler. It is easy to criticize a person for not being tech-savvy. For those of us who grew up in the age of Star Trek (the William Shatner version), the idea of instantaneous videoconferencing was unheard of. It can now be done as easily as opening up an email. No need to download an app or worry about iPhone vs. Android. It’s all done with the click of a button.
- It is much easier to collaborate in real time. I have a colleague who loves to draft documents with, and in the presence of, their client. Not my way of doing things, but to each his own. When I showed him how he could “share screen” with the client and collaborate remotely, I think he was reduced to happy tears.
- In my opinion (and yes, this is only my opinion), the vast majority of co-parents have figured out a way to adapt as necessary in the face of COVID-19 and have not used the pandemic as an excuse. It certainly helped that we received a series of court decisions very early on, which had the following theme: “Whatever you did before COVID-19, you will continue to do after COVID-19, wherever possible. And it’s virtually always possible.” Somehow and in some way, the parents have figured it out. That should be applauded.
- I do have a general sense that parents have become much more mindful of what goes on in the classroom. For students, this past year has been a severe struggle. When the education model was set, nobody suggested that it would be a good idea to have a four-hour-long high school class. We grouped elementary school children together in rooms for a reason. I just have a feeling that what happens at school is not taken for granted as much as it was before.
Before law school, I obtained a degree in history. I studied the “big events” in history: the civil rights movement; the Great Depression; the Cold War. I wondered if I would ever live through such a big event. 9/11 was certainly one, but in my lifetime, we have never faced an event with such a direct global impact over a sustained period of time as our current circumstance. The world has changed. It’s too early yet to see the lasting effects of COVID-19, but it has changed, nonetheless.
And it is easy to become pessimistic, especially as we are approaching what we all hope to be a turning point in the right direction. But the pandemic has also had the unintended consequence of demonstrating our capacity to adapt and change in positive ways as well.
To speak with an experienced Windsor family lawyer about your divorce or what to expect in family court, call Howie Johnson Barristers and Solicitors at 519.973.1500, get started now or contact us online. Many of our clients are referred to us by former and current clients, and also by lawyers, counsellors and other professionals.