Advocacy for the virtualization of justice

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Philippe Roberge and Pierre-David Girard, the authors of this article. Source: LinkedIn

We recently read an opinion piece by an Ontario lawyer in Canadian Lawyer, which is against the virtualization of hearings in family law. We wanted to answer it.

It is because this opinion goes against the trend of other Western jurisdictions and seems to us, by the very fact, disconnected from the reality of the legal market of 2022.

Here is a short plea in favor of connecting our Quebec system.

Dear colleagues, let us convince you to “log in”.

First, we are absolutely not insensitive to the practical arguments to the effect that the virtualization of hearings presents many challenges, especially in terms of complex files or long trials (but the reader will be able to identify for himself the logical exceptions ).

Our point is rather that the current situation means that we have no choice but to take up the challenge of virtualization. Many short-term hearings benefit from virtual hearings or hybrid mode. The interests of litigants, access to justice and access to a lawyer are at stake. As professionals, we can also derive many benefits from it.

Abundant and unanswered legal requests

In 2013-2014, the Barreau du Québec published in a report that a substantial part of legal needs were simply not addressed to a lawyer, nor answered otherwise.

Our company observes it elsewhere: the demand for a lawyer in Quebec is abundant and far from being saturated. Even though it’s quite the opposite…

If it is easy to find professionals for complex private mandates or with a high contentious subject, the stakes are quite different for the “smallest” files or those involving more vulnerable litigants (I am thinking here in particular in terms of DYP , housing, criminal offenses or any representation covered by legal aid).

To be economically viable and interesting for lawyers, these files require a “volume” practice. However, virtual representations become here a real turning point to attract a sufficient legal offer.

Challenge of serving a vast territory

The challenge for a Quebec citizen to find a lawyer is all the greater when he lives in the regions.

Every week, we receive hundreds of requests from litigants “far away” from major centers who wish to be represented remotely because of the overload of lawyers in their sector. Lack of specialization and conflicts of interest are also frequently cited as reasons.

However, many of these “orphan” cases come from litigants with income allowing them to afford the services of a lawyer if they were in an urban centre. However, the attendance fees associated with the legalization of the case preclude any outside representation, except if “remotely”.

Prices for legal services on the rise

The market value of legal services is high due to its scarcity and the specific skills required.

In this context, however, it becomes even more difficult to invoice disbursements and fees to a client for travel and waiting in appeal of the roll for a postponement, appearance or other procedure that can simply be carried out remotely. We even dare to extend our reasoning to any form of audience.

However, several of our lawyer partners report to us that they have been reprimanded by certain judges for not having physically presented themselves within the framework of a simple procedure. We will pass here for the sake of ensuring economically reasonable access to justice…

Labor shortage

The legal sector is no exception to the great calamity affecting the job market in general: the shortage of manpower. According to various sources, this should extend over 10 years.

Firm owners will remember how -compared to 5 years ago- it is now more difficult to recruit and retain young lawyers within their law firm.

To remedy this, firms have adjusted the working conditions of their employees upwards and have – almost all of them systematically – integrated the concept of ” work-life balance to their recruiting speech. One of the arguments of attraction lies in the possibility of working remotely, from home.

However, the drop in the number of staff and the increase in their cost will certainly have considerable effects on the capacity of the legal offer to meet the needs of Quebec litigants.

The “more for less” challenge

It follows from all of this situation that, to maintain a sufficient legal offer, we (lawyers) must reinvent ourselves in order to succeed in handling more cases for less.

This is a challenge, which has already started in several other jurisdictions in the Western world.

This approach to ” more for less has no impact on the professional services business model. On the contrary, it can even be more productive and require less effort for professionals (it therefore fits very well into the trend aimed at promoting our mental and life balance).

To adopt it, however, we must be cunning in optimizing the various processes of our services and the administration of justice.

Technology: our best ally

The optimization necessary to provide better access to the services of a lawyer and to justice in general passes, in our opinion, through new technologies.

Several technological tools exist and are available. Others are currently under construction. The pandemic has been a real accelerator of change and modernization.

It remains that the virtualization of representations is unavoidable: it allows in particular to save session time, to concentrate on the provision of the legal service to be rendered, to serve a clientele in a greater territorial radius and to intervene in more cases. It is also in symbiosis with our desire to achieve a better balance between personal life and professional life.

Our profession has too often had the reputation of being conservative and backward. Why not prove this echo wrong?

We can do it; the pandemic is proof of that. It is in the greatest interest of justice and the well-being of our profession to continue in this line with openness and a state of mind of defiance in the face of the adaptations that may result from it.

Finally, we would like to commend the courts for the virtualization work done so far. Their speed of adaptation during the pandemic is encouraging for the future.

About the authors

Me Philip RobergeCo-founder and CEO of JuriGo.ca.

Me Pierre-David GirardCo-founder and Business Development Director of JuriGo.ca.

JuriGo.ca is the first intelligent lawyer-client relationship platform. In the past year, she has helped over 500 firms/lawyers develop their business and over 25,000 litigants find the right lawyer for their legal needs.

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