From suits to sweats: How the push to paperless has affected the legal landscape

The shift to online amidst COVID-19 and how it has affected the work of lawyers in Ontario

Josef-Jake Camacho Aguilar, founder and CEO of JCA Law Office Professional Corporation stands in front of his office on Eglinton Ave East, Toronto, Ont.  COURTESY EVANGELINE AGUILAR

The COVID-19 pandemic, and the growing familiarity with working online over the course of a year, has changed the way many businesses and individuals operate. 

In the legal industry, where the tools of the trade have relied on signatures using pens and paper for centuries, working online has been quite a change of pace. 

“I love it. You don’t have to print paper; you just sign electronically a lot of the time. You don’t have to cut as many trees for paper anymore, and you also don’t have to deal with paper cuts,” said Josef-Jake Camacho Aguilar. Aguilar, who goes by Jake professionally, is the founder and CEO of JCA Law Office.

For Aguilar and his office staff, the beginning of the pandemic was not easy for business.

“When the pandemic came, the government ordered shutdowns for most businesses…for many law offices, we never really closed because we were still considered essential. I think it lasted a few weeks or a few months where our operations were paused…many clients didn’t want to come to our office,” Aguilar said.

Aguilar is grateful that the government was quick to add policies and support programs for small businesses during the initial onset of the pandemic. 

“We were one of the businesses that greatly benefited from the financial assistance from the government. If not for those, we probably would have closed our operations a long time ago,” Aguilar said.

Aguilar said now that more people have gotten used to pandemic protocols, his office is as busy, or even busier, than before. However, many clients don’t want to come to the office so they are still working remotely. 

“Before the pandemic, things were very busy. Most people worked long hours, and often even on weekends,” Aguilar said.

Aguilar said his office staff also work hard to follow government guidelines to keep everyone safe.

“People close to us have been affected and some actually suffered badly. Some close friends of ours have passed away because of it,” he said. “We know personally the effects of this pandemic. We had to heighten our protocols not just because we have to follow government guidelines, but also because we know that we have to protect ourselves because we know what effect it can have on us and to our families.”

The good news is that lawyers like Aguilar have found the shift to online to be more convenient, as the courts have allowed various services, like oath commissioning and court hearings, to be done online.

“I used to go to court from our midtown office. I would travel about an hour going there and another hour back. Now, right after the court session through Zoom, you’re right back at your office. You never actually left,” Aguilar said.

The Ontario Court of Justice has implemented ways for participants to appear in court through Zoom meetings. This allows many cases to move forward while preserving the health and safety of the participants of the court.

“It’s not like video calls haven’t been there for more than a decade…so this has always been available, but it’s only now that we have to use it — now that it’s our only choice that we have adopted it,” Aguilar said. He also hopes they will get to continue attending court virtually, as it saves a lot of time, effort, and money. 

Although the pandemic has been a very difficult and trying time for most, some people are finding the silver lining in all of this.

“I will say that my pre-pandemic and post-pandemic schedules are very similar, but I definitely feel a lot more productive. Just because I have a lot more time,” said Barbara de Dios, corporate counsel at Canadian Dental Services Corporation.

“I’m a lot more productive, I would say. I have a lot more time with all that commuting time cut out.”

Her office is at Yonge and Bloor which takes de Dios about an hour to get there from her home in Mississauga. 

“It’s so tiring! I mean, running to catch the train, waiting around when it’s delayed 30 minutes, finally going to work, grabbing a coffee — that’s two hours where you could’ve been productive,” de Dios said.

The widespread adoption of technology has also benefited some regional businesses because it allowed for streamlined interaction between offices that may be further away. 

“All these tools and platforms that are available to us now that have totally ramped up within the past year like Teams, Zoom. I mean in 2018 I don’t think I even knew what Zoom was! It has definitely fixed the COVID-19 issue and a regional issue within our organization,” de Dios said. There are a bunch of new hires from within the last year that I’ve never met in person, but I still feel like I know because we were able to use Teams to get to know each other,” de Dios said.

She also notes that one of the newer things she has adopted in order to deal with the lack of social interaction is hosting virtual coffees with other professionals she works with.

“I used to book Starbucks meetings with potential mentors and people within my organization to learn more about them and what they do,” de Dios said. Because people have to respect social distancing guidelines to stay safe, she had to overcome this by creating an internal formula for reaching out to people. 

De Dios says that she rarely goes into the office, so she hasn’t been able to interact with people as much as she would like to. She’s only been to the office about four times in the last year, and for mostly practical reasons — like printing long documents.

There is a lengthy screening process anytime someone wants to go into the office. They have to answer an internal intake form, which asks the employee whether or not they’ve traveled within the past 14 days or have had any symptoms. They then have to log a temperature reading and a pulse oximeter reading.

De Dios says that moving forward, she would like to see how corporations deal with the return to the office. 

“It would be nice to get that social interaction while also keeping the productivity and the convenience of remote work,” says de Dios as her doorbell rings. “I’m sorry! I just know that’s Amazon.” 

She says that one of the most important things about working from home is not to overdo it.

“Honestly, I can’t even tell you how many hours I was working. I was working so much because it’s so tempting when my laptop is just right there.”

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Posted: Jun 18 2021 3:57 pm
Filed under: Features Shift to Online Spotlight On Small Biz