Lawyers in a Dangerous Time - How Babin Bessner Spry Is Adapting to the COVID-19 Pandemic (Part 1)

14 April 2020

By the BBS Team

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on the way we all live and work. In this week’s blog, our lawyers share some of the challenges – and rewards – of conducting a law practice virtually and working from home. For part 2, "Support from a Distance", featuring the perspective of our law clerks and support staff, click here. 

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Strange times indeed. I spend most of the day on my computer, or on the phone, or on Zoom, and it all passes by almost too quickly. I look up and it’s like 6 pm, and I am usually, oddly, kind of exhausted. I am on my own at my place, so I need to discipline myself to take regular breaks, eat somewhat healthily, and get some exercise. That is not so different from my regular routine at the office, but doing it is not as easy as it sounds when you are home on your own!
I also play the role of “Uber eats driver” at lunch time on many days (sometimes on my bike). My adult boys all decide what will be picked up for lunch, and I go get it and bring it to them (implementing the appropriate safeguards and distancing). That gets me out and gives me the chance to see them - from at least two meters away (6’ 6 “, which is much longer than a normal hockey stick btw).
I miss the collegiality and bonding of the office, but we are doing quite well with our twice-weekly get together on Zoom (one at cocktail hour on Thursday). I can’t wait to be together again in our great new offices when this is all behind us.

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It is amazing how we all have a more thoughtful approach to communication during this pandemic, even with those we are adverse to. In my practice, most people I talk to every day, other than our clients, are adverse in interest to us. However, lawyers on my litigation files or regulators at the MFDA, IIROC and the OSC begin and end most correspondence and telephone calls with a personal touch or salutation. My e-mails, which usually ended with “best regards” now have a “stay well” added.

If I had done that before the pandemic, I’m sure it would have seemed out of place. Further, while it isn’t always easy to keep background noise down during conference calls, that no longer matters. While speaking to clients or opposing counsel, if my dog barks, who cares!  Be well and stay safe!

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There are some very thick silver linings to this difficult pandemic. One of my favourite things about practicing in this new world: the many more moments of genuine connection between counsel, regardless of the firece advocacy our practices require. On conference calls, counsel (usually) take the time to carefully check that all are well, asking with genuine concern about elderly parents (scary) or homeschooling/childcare (painful). I’ve seen a massive increase in our sense of community and togetherness. Kudos to us! We’re taking civility to a whole new level. Now if only I could figure out how to fix the lighting in my home office so that I don’t look like I’m telling a ghost story on video calls…             

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Even before the current crisis, virtual and digital law practice was a feature of life at BBS. Recently, we conducted a paperless, large-scale trial on the Ontario Superior Court of Justice’s Commercial List. Armed with tablets and laptops that connect to our secure cloud, I have experienced no disruptions in our practice. If anything, the now exclusive virtual and digital nature of the practice makes everything more direct and efficient.  If there is one thing I lament, it is the loss of daily in-person interactions with our colleagues and clients, who always provide insightful analysis on an issue within a file or a moment of levity in an otherwise charged day. I look forward to the day when our offices are fully open again, moving forward with the tangible solutions and digital tools that help us to better serve our clients, and the richness of our collegial experience.

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Here at BBS, we are so fortunate to have a state-of-the-art virtual desktop platform that allows us to access all of our files from home. This has allowed me to stay on top of matters and client communications as seamlessly as if I were at the office. In terms of how things have changed, these days, most phone calls – whether with a client or opposing counsel – usually begin with an update on how each other is doing and coping with the COVID-19 situation. The fact that we are all going through this challenging time together has created this new sense of solidarity and common ground, even among other parties or counsel who have opposing interests to our clients. I’m also still getting used to not being able to print everything!

 

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The transition to working remotely has been seamless for the most part. Our firm has a great staff, and a helpful IT infrastructure. When it comes to drafting things like pleadings, memos, or e-mails, I’m actually finding that the solitude of working from home allows me to be more focused and efficient. I’m also doing a lot more pushups than I was doing at the office, so there are definitely some advantages!
There are, of course, some challenges as well. Communicating with other lawyers at BBS now requires an e-mail or a phone call, rather than just walking down the hall to a nearby office. I am also figuring out new things every day, like the logistics of getting an affidavit sworn, getting a document filed electronically with the court, or scheduling examinations for discovery with the uncertainty of what social distancing may look like three months from now. I also have a roommate (a.k.a. a girlfriend) who is also working from home. We have had to be mindful of one another and remember to maintain privacy and confidentiality where it’s needed.

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The way BBS is handling this unprecedented pandemic has really driven home how grateful I am to be a part of this team. Unlike some of my fellow articling students, I was not forced to commute downtown for weeks after closure orders went out. Once the government started closing things down, the entire office shifted to a work-from-home model.
Working from home has definitely been an adjustment. I never expected my articling to include hands on lessons on how to work remotely in the middle of a global pandemic. BBS has provided me a masterclass in how to adjust to anything the world can throw at you while still serving your clients’ needs. Thanks to our virtual desktop system I was able to hit the ground running with minimal issues. My biggest work problem these days is missing the convenience of my second monitor. I may get assignments and projects exclusively through e-mail now, but whomever is sending work my way is always willing to have a call to talk it through.


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