Nothing is normal, either old or new

It’s uncertain what the “new normal” will look like, but lawyers are suffering now, says Bill Trudell

Bill Trudell

It was around 7 p.m. on a quiet Saturday evening. I was sitting outside being peacefully serenaded by an orchestra of birds. The world was beautiful, calm, almost silent. I looked into the remarkably blue sky and then suddenly an airplane flew over; yes, an airplane! How dare it? It seemed so abnormal, but then there appeared another one, streaking, certainly trespassing in our sky.

There have been so many nights where the heavens have been clear, save for the satellites and stars, most often hidden from view. I began to realize that our world is starting to open again. We are speculating about a “new normal,” but no one knows what it means. I for one am worried that it is too soon to start easing restrictions almost everywhere. If the world is a global village, the United States, Brazil, Russia and indeed China continue to poison it.

One the one hand, we must get back to work. Families cannot function and grow without day care and classrooms; most parents are only substitute teachers, after all. The curves of debt and joblessness must be flattened, then reversed. Social distancing and masks, no matter how creative, curtail personal engagement.

Yet masks are necessary to prevent the spread of a deadly virus. They are not fashion statements, but statements of discipline and respect for others.

At the time of writing, however, masks seem to be coming off with reckless abandon. In some locations crowds seem to be chaotically assembling on beaches, in parks and other public spaces contrary to public health warnings and government requests in areas where infections are still growing, deaths are still occurring, and testing is spotty.

The “hey, they are open, why aren’t we?” refrain is infectious. Moreover, there seems to be a laissez-faire attitude in some quarters, that this is all transitory, and “let’s make the economy great again and get back to normal.”

Currently, however, there appears to be no getting back to normal for many members of the legal profession. With courts closed and trials adjourned a large proportion of members are in serious financial difficulty, especially young criminal lawyers. Lawyers, and firms, are having to rethink their office arrangements as rents are not forgiven, or simply deferred. Billings are non-existent, client contact is remote.

In this profession we have been talking about technology for years. In a matter of weeks, the administration of justice has embraced the necessity and use of teleconferences, video conferences, remote appearances, hearings via Zoom, electronic filing, service and execution of documents, and the end of paper.

This is a tsunami of change. It will have an enormous impact and usher in the disappearance of jobs, clerical assistants, office spaces and financial security. Furthermore, for the foreseeable future, social distancing will restrict client contact, the life blood for advocates.

It is fascinating and perhaps disgraceful that during this crisis certain law societies -- Ontario’s, for example -- sit on their members’ fees and dues and offer lame comments but little real empathy.

Nevertheless, there have been remarkably positive manifestations of this pandemic. The entire world is now everyone’s concern. COVID-19 does not respect boundaries, and international help and cooperation has increased. Closer to home, the importance of family, the innocence and future of our children, a slower pace and an emphasis on health have changed so many lives.

After the initial panic hoarding, people are now carefully, often out of fiscal necessity, shopping only for what they need and patiently standing in lines for their turn in order to observe physical distancing. Mental health problems and loneliness generated by confinement and job losses are open issues for all of us. Cars have been replaced by bikes and walking. Roads have been opened to accommodate them. The air is cleaner, it seems. Wildlife has come out of hiding, laying claim to its environment. People are singing, music is everywhere, frontline workers are being heralded. Many politicians are rising to the true meaning of public service. We have new respect for our doctors and nurses, and new hope for our scientists. And the legal profession is determined and anxious to get back to the vocation we have chosen, to serve our clients whose needs will have expanded during this terrible time.

What this crisis has done is forced us to stop and think and appreciate and question what is normal. We are going to look back at some point, and there will be many Saturday nights pondering the changes not only in our world, but certainly in ourselves.

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