As the old saying goes, “Everyone deserves their day in court”. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, that “in court” part takes on a new meaning. Government mandates around physical distancing have transformed the Family law system. It now relies heavily on technology for remote or “virtual” hearings, trials, negotiations, and assorted dispute-resolution processes. Some of these changes have proven to be surprisingly efficient. Likely here to stay even after the pandemic is no longer a looming day-to-day concern.
Yet for divorce proceedings in particular, few people would deliberately choose an all-online process. Especially when it comes to choosing and dealing with a lawyer, most people prefer an in-person experience, at least initially.
So here are some tips for making the current tech-based legal environment work for you, when it comes to choosing and working with your Family lawyer.
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1. Find a Lawyer Who “Clicks”
This is actually a double-entendre. First, you need to find a lawyer who is adept with technology. One who, in response to the challenges of the pandemic, has embraced technology with enthusiasm. You want someone who is familiar and at ease with the various communication methods that serve your own needs best.
Secondly – but perhaps more importantly… You need to find a lawyer whose professional and personal style meshes well with your own personality, needs, expectations, and objectives. This begins with doing some legwork around finding the best fit for you. Ideally, you have to do this through a series of video conferences. In these you can ideally get a sense of the “whole person” you are considering retaining.
It may be difficult to gauge a person when both of you are behind a computer screen. But it’s important to go through this screening exercise before you make your decision. Even at best, you will likely be working with your lawyer for many months; but in the worst case, it can be years.
2. Fostering the Relationship
Long before the pandemic made it necessary to use remote and virtual methods, some clients have felt challenged to feel a meaningful professional connection to their Family lawyers. Here at Shulman & Partners LLP, we have always prided ourselves on being responsive to our clients. We have doubled-down on this objective now that there are additional pandemic-related hurdles to overcome.
In addition to doing are utmost to make an online/remote representation arrangement as effective as possible, we also have many enhanced data security protocols in place. Set to reassure our clients of the safety and integrity of the information that they provide us.
Plus, as we have detailed in a previous article titled “Virtual Law: Navigating a Case Remotely” we have completely changed and improved the way we do things at our firm.
3. Improved Availability
With the heavy reliance on technology in all aspects of modern life, many people complain about a sense of disconnection. Yet, when it comes to dealing with your chosen Family lawyer, diverse and secure methods of telecommunication can actually be a benefit.
Gone are the days when a lawyer could only be reached by telephone, and only after being “screened” by his or her secretary or executive assistant. These days, you can likely reach your lawyer by phone, email, or in some cases even by text! Plus, if your lawyer is tech-savvy and proactive, he or she will also have an active professional presence on social media. Here you can get a better glimpse of the personality, professional focus, reputation, and personal legal passions of the person you have hired.
In other words, the uptick in the use of technology has likely made your lawyer more accessible and responsive. Not less.
4. Try to Get Some Face Time
Although the internet makes it possible that the Family lawyer you hire can be virtually anywhere in the world… It’s still best to be geographically close enough to have in-person meetings – at least periodically.
This is because there really is no replacement for in-person, one-on-one conversations as a means of fostering good rapport and a sense of trust in your chosen lawyer. Indeed, this sense of connection and understanding is a key component of the lawyer-client dynamic. It remains true even if those conversations have to take place behind a COVID-19-safe PPE mask, or with other safety protocols in place.
5. Once You’ve Filed
The divorce process involves many interim steps, detailed procedures, and paperwork. You will work closely with your lawyer to address them all. When you are ready to file your divorce application and supporting documents, this step can be done online here.
However, your connection and communication with your lawyer should not drop too drastically at this point. He or she should continue to explain the various processes, timelines, and objectives to you. So that you have a realistic view of how long the process might take, and what the possible outcomes might be.
6. The Hybrid Court and Justice System
Now that the pandemic seems to be winding down, the Ontario Family courts are now dispensing justice under what is colloquially referred to as a “hybrid” system.
After being initially closed for everything but urgent matters, the courts are now reopening on a gradual basis. But with the expectation that virtual court hearings will continue alongside in-person ones, for now. Likewise, various Alternative Dispute Resolution processes (such as mediation, arbitration, and collaborative law initiatives) are also provided either remotely or in-person. Depending on the circumstances, and on the participants’ safety comfort-level.
This means that when it’s time for your divorce hearing, you and your lawyer will have to work closely together to make sure your legal rights and asserted positions are optimally presented. Whether in person or using remote (virtual) technology, and whether before the courts or in mediation/arbitration sessions.