In The Law, Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks

Senior Partner Atty. Connie Jimenez-Aquino writes for OneMega discussing the legal community’s efforts in modernizing and adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic. She opines that the law, and the protection of individual rights, must continues to prevail even in unprecedented times.

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How the practitioners of the law have learned to pivot during the pandemic.

Pre-pandemic, I, being a family law practitioner, would have never imagined myself consoling a client and offering my advice through online platforms that are inherently impersonal. But, as we have seen the effects of the virus play out over the past year, COVID-19 has impacted every corner of our society. In one major aspect, it has been the catalyst for the shift towards the digital age. The virtual set-up has now become the rule, rather than the exception and for the past year, the legal community has shifted to an entirely new form of law: video conferences and online proceedings, with in-court hearings far and few in between. It requires an entirely new set of skills—and members of the law profession had no choice but to embrace this change.

Teaching old dogs new tricks

In the administration of justice, the four-fold duty of a lawyer has been recognized to be towards society, their profession, the courts, and their clients. As the pandemic demanded of so many industries and professions, so too must the agents of the courts adapt. As our oath to uphold these duties endure, the old dogs of the legal profession were forced to learn new tricks. Freedom and flexibility are not words often used in law. For decades, courtroom proceedings have been uniformly painted by first-time litigants as intimidating, harrowing, and stressful. It is an adverse experience for the vast majority of our clients, and it has always been a lawyer’s job to guide them through the thicket. Now, in the brave new world of remote hearings, lawyers are forced to fully rely on technology and sharpen their skills to help their clients navigate through the new normal. Meeting the needs of our clients, and fulfilling our duty as lawyers to ensure access to justice, now starts with relying on internet connectivity to foster meaningful client participation—and in being adept with the use of hardware and software with available applications like Zoom and Microsoft Teams for witness prepping, conferencing, and even virtual hearings.

The legal pivot in the name of justice

This pandemic has spared nothing and no one. As the pandemic threw businesses, and indeed every corner of society, into a state of upheaval, the profession of law also had to oversee, and absorb, much of the fallout. Questions on restrictions of civil liberties and possible human rights violations swept the media. Vulnerable groups like women and children were also a concern as the economic impact of the pandemic fell on families especially those living in close quarters. Thus, lawyers had to embrace the work-at-home set-up and began digitizing their practice in facing these multitude of new legal concerns with little or no precedent to guide us. These instances are reminders that, even in unprecedented and uncertain times, the law shall continue to prevail. Just as life doesn’t stop in a pandemic, neither are our inherent and inalienable rights suspended; nor the obligation to protect and ensure accessibility of those rights. It is the duty of lawyers to modernize and display resilience in their career, lest the law itself come to a standstill.

Life (and the law) goes on

As we move forward into the new normal one year since the lockdown, addressing these obstacles must be a priority for the legal community. On one end, client engagement has been made easier through Zoom. But, accessibility to technology has been a barrier for others. The law has always existed to serve the needs of the people and, if there is no empathy in law, then we cannot sufficiently address the disparities in access to justice. Ultimately, lawyers are embedded with the duty to support efforts in the improvement of the administration of justice; this has been proven true in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic. And it remains to be true one year later, as society tries to regain its sense of normalcy. As the world changes at a breathtaking pace, so must our justice system respond in kind. And it all starts by learning NEW TRICKS.