Focus: Insolvency lawyers lead technology race

When Patrick Shea was retained to advise the Jamaican government on new insolvency laws, the Gowling WLG lawyer found that his iPad mini tablet quickly became indispensable to his task.

“It’s probably the best tool I have,” says Shea, a certified specialist in bankruptcy and insolvency law at the firm’s Toronto office.

Rather than lug around volumes of statutes and precedents, before each trip, Shea would simply download whatever resources he needed, turning his device into a portable library.

“I would have had to carry a suitcase of documents.”

Instead, he simply made sure that he had a lot of memory in his device.

As well, he could access his office computer systems from his tablet through a secure connection using software from Citrix Systems.

In fact, Shea says his iPad has become an everyday part of his practice, and an extension of his office.

“I haven’t got to the point where I could do an entire hearing,” Shea says, “but I always bring my iPad to court.” If the courtroom doesn’t have Wi-Fi, he connects using a hotspot through his “old BlackBerry.”

Shea isn’t alone in his use of tablets to help make him a more productive lawyer.

Tevia Jeffries, an associate in the insolvency group at Dentons Canada LLP, says she uses “a tablet in court pretty regularly now, both to take notes and access documents.”

She says it allows her to “show up to court with fewer giant binders of documents.”

That’s because the insolvency bar has an edge over much of the litigation that is taking place in Canadian courts.

The monitors appointed to oversee matters under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act maintain web sites containing all the relevant filings.

That’s been driven in part by demand and by the Commercial List court in Toronto, which has been particularly active in driving online access to documents with its Guide Concerning Commercial List E-Service.

The guide sets out the requirements for maintaining a case web site and instructions on electronic service protocols. It also stresses the point that its proceedings “involve ‘real time litigation,’ which, by its natures requires efficient, effective and cost efficient methods of providing service and notice to stakeholders.”

Combine monitor web sites with access to past judgments through CanlII.org, and subscription to online legal resources and a tablet makes for a powerful litigation library in a small package.

Jeffries says her tablet is also handy in negotiating terms of orders, because she can simply call up precedents and “make changes on the fly to orders in real time.”

However, the use of technology among insolvency practitioners is somewhat a function of age.

Many of the senior lawyers Law Times spoke to scoffed when asked about their favourite piece of technology, suggesting they don’t really use computers, or they referred to a dated cellphone or some type of dictation application running on their smartphone — which is still a giant leap forward from where the legal business stood 20 years ago.

So there is a generation divide when it comes to technology adoption. Take Jeffries, who was called to the New York Bar in 2009 where she worked at Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP before returning to Canada in 2012. She says her generation of lawyers is comfortable “using a broad array of various online tools and document management systems. I don’t even think about them. I use them all the time.”

Those graduating from law school today are even more astute.

However, accessing documents online is only part of the equation. Being able to add value to a document by marking it up and breaking it down is key.

That’s where the world of apps is making its mark.

For example, Jeffries uses iAnnotate, which allows lawyers to mark up and share PDFs. There are numerous other apps that can be added to help make the life of a mobile insolvency lawyer more productive, such as Evernote, a note-taking and organizer app. Microsoft also has its popular suite of products including Excel, Word, and PowerPoint accessible through apps.

When it comes to insolvency-specific apps, the pickings are slim.

However, Canadian business consulting firm Farber Financial Group has built RESOLV, an app that covers Canada’s insolvency and restructuring world.

Allan Nackan, a trustee in bankruptcy in the insolvency group, says the app is now in its second version and has been upgraded.

It includes a section involving CCAA filings. 

As well, the app has a number of model orders, from CCAA initial orders to receivership orders and Mareva or Anton Pillar orders.

There is also a section covering relevant statutes and regulations, including major U.S. and foreign jurisdictions.

One of the more prominent features is the “Door Sheet” — a daily posting of the cases being heard in the Toronto Commercial Court.

Nackan says, “I know a lot of people use it. Some judges I speak to love it.”

It’s particularly helpful since the court stopped sending out an e-mail blast to users bout the docket. They must now go to the court’s web site to find the information.

“It’s not easy to find the info,” Nackan says. “We actually process that info and present it in a friendly, readable fashion.”

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