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Law, Legal profession

The legal year that was – 2021

Author: Christopher Green

It has become an annual tradition, along with the sipping of the eggnog, and the making of futile resolutions, to muse about the legal year just past- herewith my musings about 2021- such as it was.

As in all walks of life, in the legal world it was all Covid, all of the time for 2021 – or, at least, that’s how it seemed. The pandemic continued to loom over everything this past year,re-shaping legal offices and the court system itself.Our own humble office gradually lumbered back to life- re-configured with new seating arrangements and lots and lots of plexiglass, but pretty much back to normal (although some would argue that a law office environment is never really “normal” – but that is a subject for another blog.)

The courts themselves however are another matter. While in-person criminal trials have resumed, albeit with a troubling backlog of cases to clear, none of the lawyers in our firm, all of whom practice family or civil litigation, have seen the inside of an actual court room during the past year, and none of us have yet set foot in the shiny new Abbotsford court house. All of our frequent court appearances have been virtual, by telephone or video-conference, as have been our settlement conferences, mediations and examinations for discovery. We were offered  dates for in person trials, but, after dragging our robes out of mothballs were told there weren’t any judges available – the shortage of judges remained unaddressed for yet another year.

In truth, the silver lining to the whole Covid mess was that it forced our court system to re-visit  its 18th century work processes and begin to take fumbling steps towards adopting more modern practices. Certainly, for those of us practicing in the Valley, it is a godsend to be able to make a brief 5 minute court appearance from the comfort of our  home or office, rather than devoting a half day to travel and cooling our heels at the court house. Maybe if Covid hangs around long enough we will see some meaningful re-design of our court system.

A couple of interesting reforms did occur this year. As I recently blogged about, of the time -honoured forms of address for judges  were suddenly yanked in November, in favour of tongue-twisting gender neutral salutations. That reform followed an earlier directive requiring counsel to identify the appropriate pronouns to be used, while introducing themselves or their clients or witnesses to the court. Some practitioners thought the whole directive was a bit over the top, and had the nerve to say so, and in the process turned this year’s annual general meeting of the Law Society into an incendiary gong show, with the debate ranging far beyond the mere use of pronouns. The issue quickly became whether one is even allowed to dissent, when the topic is politically correct.

Speaking of political correctness- Covid did slow the Law Society in its quest to force all lawyers in the Province to undergo mandatory cultural sensitivity training and political re-education on indigenous issues. We are told however that the course materials have now been assembled, and will be  unleashed upon the profession  in the new year.

Undoubtedly the largest upheaval to hit the profession in 2021 though was the advent of no-fault auto insurance. Contingency fee auto injury cases have long been a huge force within the profession, attracting  large numbers of practitioners due to their potentially lucrative earing potential, and injury claims have, until now constituted the bulk of the work of our superior courts, and causing  long waiting lists. While it will likely be another year or so before the existing inventory of personal injury cases have flushed through the system, but it should be interesting to see what the long term effect is upon access to justice.  Perhaps we have always had enough judges,  just too many  PI cases.

So what does a personal injury lawyer do when there aren’t any injury claims to  litigate?- Well, if you observe the billboards, bus shelter ads an TV commercials, you will note an astonishing up-serge in lawyers willing to take on your disability insurance claim, or your contested estate matter. We at DLG are noticing the entry of an increasing number of former personal injury lawyers into the realm of family law as well.

Long term readers will recall our account of another contentious Law Society AGM, the 2019 iteration, when the Law Society floated the half- baked idea of opening the courts to half trained legal professionals as a means of  improving access to justice. The benchers of the Law Society were roundly chastised by the membership, and told to knock it off. I predicted then that we hadn’t heard the last of the controversy, and indeed we haven’t. This year the Law Society introduced its ‘Innovation sandbox’ project, basically providing non-lawyers a dispensation to practice law without a licence, on a trial basis, as long as they apply to play in the sandbox. It is a testament to the level of Covid fatigue suffered by the profession as a whole, that few have yet had the energy to raise their voices in protest, but then again, to date there have been less than 20 applicants, and some of those have been from lawyers. I expect that it will only be when some of these start-ups begin to gain traction and start stealing market share that lawyers will react- or when the public begins to complain about shoddy work product produced by non-lawyer

As usual, I end my year end musing with the caveat that the opinions expressed are my own, and not necessarily those of management, who get understandably nervous when sharp sticks get poked at the Law Society ( however much they deserve it )