Was the legal profession ready for remote working capabilities, and did practitioners have the IT resources required to do so seamlessly?
For aeons, the legal profession has been steeped in tradition and precedent so its conventional, ‘don’t fix what ain’t broke’ mindset was shaken to the core by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only were attorneys and advocates barred from seeing clients in person, but we had to up our Zoom game and navigate conducting remote trials, hearings and interviews. Virtual hearings including virtual dispute resolution platforms such as mediation and arbitration became the new way to conduct matters as a response to the limited possibilities for in-person hearings.
Not without its teething problems, the Gauteng Division of the High Court in Pretoria and Johannesburg stepped up and implemented an electronic case management and litigation system called CaseLines that was launched in January 2020. Legal representatives were instructed to upload the necessary pleadings and other relevant documents onto the system directly and were urged not to file hardcopy pleadings or documents in certain kinds of matters, to streamline the process.
The timing of CaseLines’ implementation turned out to be fortuitous considering the hard lockdown imposed on our country on 23 March 2020 and the kinks were quickly ironed out. Swiftly, other divisions of the High Court began issuing directives for virtual hearings and the filing of documents by means of e-mail. This sudden shift not only affected the backlog of cases to be heard but also forced legal representatives to embrace the new requirements for additional IT software such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Adobe Acrobat and Dropbox, and to adjust their file and practice management to ensure that records could be compiled electronically and easily distributed to all parties involved.
Naturally this IT revolution had the effect of excluding some legal practitioners who did not have the resources to conduct their practices virtually, but on a positive note it encouraged and pushed others to quickly adapt and evolve and develop the necessary technical skills in order to keep up and remain on the cutting-edge of the latest technologies – the new, improved way, it seems, of practising law.
Fortunately, for us at Gillan & Veldhuizen Inc., we already had the capabilities for remote-based work and cloud storage systems from as early as 2015 and have made use of various developments in IT over the years for on-going litigation and other aspects of our practice. This has assisted our legal team in ensuring remote accessibility to client files, actioning speedy, uninterrupted service to our clients.
The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasised the need for the legal community to adjust to ever-changing technology in our work environment and be creative in developing a new and modern approach to this age-old profession which, given time will all seem perfectly normal.