While lawyers do specialize, the pandemic has shown a fundamental body of knowledge they all share
All lawyers know the feeling. It starts pretty much as soon as they graduate from law school: getting grilled on an area of law about which they know nothing. The question usually starts with, “Since you are a lawyer, can I ask you a question?” The lawyer’s answer invariably begins with, “Since I don’t practise that area of law . . .”
While it is true that practising law usually involves mastering a list of rules and precedents in one or a small number of areas, there is a more fundamental body of knowledge that all lawyers do share.
This knowledge is about conducting proceedings fairly, efficiently and with a clear goal in mind. With the pandemic forcing lawyers to shift to virtual proceedings, lawyers across the country have put these fundamental skills to the test.
For estate lawyers, these skills often come into play when they are called on to assess the capacity to consent. With provincial governments allowing witnessing and other procedures to shift online, estate lawyers have had to be creative in assessing consent.
“Normally, when you’re dealing with a client in person, you can watch their face for clues, get a sense of how the family functions,” says Lori Duffy at WeirFoulds LLP. Even if a relative who is a beneficiary brings the client to the office, Duffy says she makes sure to talk to them in private, something she can’t ensure if matters are being taken care of through Zoom calls.
Likewise, in workplace investigations, the shift to virtual has forced lawyers to think creatively about applying their sense of procedural fairness and interviewing skills.
Because witnesses need to have a chance to review statements, Krista Siedlak at TurnpenneyMilne LLP says she will use screen sharing at the end of the interview or read back witness statements to validate them.
Siedlak and Duffy are both practising in very different areas of law and, like all lawyers, would not offer advice in an area that they don’t practise. But if the question was about procedural fairness and interviewing techniques, both lawyers could provide similar expertise. It is what being a lawyer is all about.