Virtual vs. In Person

Last week I wrote about changes to the virtual rules of etiquette for the Ontario Courts.  Virtual is better for many things, travel costs for clients, time involved waiting in person, etc., however, we’re going to lose out on some very important things we may not have considered as a profession.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not hate doing mediations virtually – all that downtime while the mediator explains to the other side why my position is correct (because, why wouldn’t it be) is now spent working productively and our clients appreciate it.

However, a common theme I’m starting to notice when dealing with junior lawyers who started practicing during the pandemic is many have no idea what they are doing.   A lot of this is because of virtual court.  Before the pandemic, you would be able to sit in motion’s court and watch people go ahead of you.  You would learn what worked and what didn’t.  It was important.    These days, motions courts are virtual and there is not much opportunity to observe.  It’s going to become a big problem.

Similarly, the networking opportunities to meet lawyers outside your area of law are limited.  Meeting others in the lawyer’s lounge on breaks from Court is one of the ways I made many friends of mine who practice in different areas of law.  This means it’s harder to create a referral network if you’re starting on your own and once again, it’s going to become a big problem.

While interviewing for an associate to join our firm I learned that many law firms are still operating virtually.  I appreciate the cost savings.  I understand that some may see this as a positive.  But what I heard from every young lawyer in that situation is that they aren’t learning how to be lawyers because they’re not in the office, observing, talking about cases with others, and generally being social about the law.

Our firm has had its virtual-only times, but now, we’re firmly hybrid, with most of us being in the office four days a week.  This is important for all of us – it makes us better lawyers.

I urge other firms who think virtual is key to their success to really think about a newly called lawyer, litigating from their bedroom, in sweat pants and ask: is that the best way to develop a lawyer?

Inga B. Andriessen J.D.