Shorter time frames are realized because of Zoom meetings and clients considering ADR: lawyer
The pandemic and transition to virtual meetings have led to positive developments in family law, and Diana Isaac, a family lawyer and partner at Shulman & Partners LLP, says divorces have never been easier.
Significant disruption to the justice system compelled many people to navigate the justice system in other ways, and Isaac says alternative dispute resolutions became a good option because mediators and arbitrators had more availability to address issues, she says.
When shared parenting, child support and property division matters are contested, she says the process takes much longer, sometimes stretching to more than one year. However, shorter timeframes are being realized thanks to Zoom meetings and clients considering ADR.
When courts were backlogged, she says many people pursued mediation or arbitration, which expedited cases because the different stages and requirements were not required.
Online processes have also provided access to justice for people in smaller remote areas where many lawyers may not be available. “We are obviously demographically geographically reaching a whole bigger population, which is great to assist people with family law issues, which can be very difficult to navigate.”
With money saved through serving and filing documents electronically and eliminating travel time to court, Isaac says most clients are happier with virtual court meetings with lawyers because it is much more convenient.
However, Isaac says that Ontarians without access to a computer may find online meetings a challenge “When doing virtual mediation, you have to make sure that someone actually has access to a computer and good internet connection that is not consistently freezing.”
She says some clients prefer being in the exact location as their lawyer, and some platforms can accommodate participants. For example, many mediations have breakout rooms, as is the case when mediation occurs in-person, to provide peace of mind for clients. “One of their big concerns is ‘I want to be able to speak to my lawyer independently’ and so you have those opportunities through running these mediations through the software.”
Every case thrives differently, and Isaac says some people may not like online because of virtual fatigue and prefer to see someone eye to eye and have a conversation. “Everyone has a different way of learning, listening, and what they feel comfortable with,” she says, “it may not be for everyone but in my experience, a lot of people find it convenient, effective, efficient, and cost-effective.”
With the uncertainty of the pandemic, she says it is premature to know if virtual proceedings are here to stay. But, in her experience, clients find it more accessible. “It’s more convenient when people have jobs and just depending on if they’re working from home or elsewhere, it’s just more convenient to have that online presence, where going to a physical location can be time-consuming.”