How the Pandemic Is Changing the Legal Profession: the COVID-19 Effect

How the Pandemic Is Changing the Legal Profession: the COVID-19 Effect
How the pandemic is changing the legal profession: learn more about the impact of COVID on Ontario lawyers.

COVID-19 swept us into a world where we had to find different ways to do almost everything. Kids went to school via Zoom. We worked from home. Merchants left our orders on the curbside. Instead of holidaying, going for dinner, or visiting family, we binged everything there was to see on Netflix, Crave, and Amazon Prime. For the legal profession in Canada, which has been criticized for maintaining tradition rather than adapting to new technologies, the pandemic brought many changes to the way we did things.


Fortunately, most Ontario law firms were able to transition to the new socially-distant circumstances quickly and efficiently. New online methods of doing things even brought some benefits for legal teams: videoconferencing saves travel time and costs, scheduling is easier, and most clients find virtual meetings more convenient. Mediators and arbitrators have adapted their practices to Zoom and have been able to continue to work through their cases. The need for electronic communication also served to bring Ontario’s courts, previously criticized for adhering to antiquated practices, into the digital age. The Court now accepts a wide range of electronically-filed documents and is allowing certain hearings to occur virtually. The move toward greater use of online technology has brought some technical challenges, but the pandemic created additional challenges for some lawyers.


A Changing Landscape


During COVID-19, lawyers in certain areas of practice received an increase in business, while others saw a drop in new clients. For example, during the initial lockdown in Ontario, there were far fewer vehicles on the road; consequently, the number of accidents decreased, as did the number of new personal injury cases. With most people staying at home, the number of slip-and-fall accidents dropped as well. However, many predict that with the loosening of restrictions, we will see a rise in accident numbers due to people celebrating their newfound “freedom” in inappropriate ways. We are also seeing more people filing mental health disability claims; the stresses of the pandemic have exacerbated existing conditions in some people and sparked depression and anxiety across the board.


Since last spring, family lawyers have been busier than ever. Couples were forced to work from home, often while trying to cope with young children and sharing close quarters. This 24/7 forced proximity caused many couples to realize that their marriages were no longer working, and divorce lawyers reported a jump in the number of new cases. As well, many family lawyers were called upon to draw up new custody agreements that reflected the fact that children were no longer in school.

Employment and labour lawyers have been kept busy trying to sort out COVID-related issues in the workplace. The evolving situation regarding pandemic regulations have meant that employers have been touching base frequently for legal advice regarding their workplace policies. Real estate lawyers have been fielding questions from lenders, developers, contractors, landlords and tenants, as economic conditions have made it difficult for some and created opportunities for others.


Looking into the Future

While there have been many aspects of the legal system that have been able to continue, there have also been delays due to the closure of the courts. While some urgent matters have been dealt with in court, a lot of criminal and civil trials have had to be postponed indefinitely, due to the fact that juries cannot be empaneled. And since there was a backlog of cases even before the pandemic began, further delays are inevitable.


However, other processes may be streamlined. During this past 18 months, the legal system has embraced technological advances that might otherwise have taken years to implement. We are seeing signs of a paradigm shift that might have been unthinkable pre-pandemic. For example, lawyers expect that the advent of electronic filing may mean the end of role of the process server in personal injury cases; before COVID, personal injury lawyers paid process servers to wait in line to file documents with the Court, but now it can be done almost instantly and without added cost. And it’s very probable that the videoconference will continue to be a useful alternative to in-person meetings, at least part of the time.


Despite the challenges created by the coronavirus, we at Sokoloff Lawyers have continued to do what we always do: focusing on our clients, supporting them, and doing our best for them. Whether we are working from home or from the office, we will help you to get the compensation you deserve. If you have any questions about your case, or if you would like to talk to one of our lawyers about a new case, contact us.