I had an in person attendance in Court for the first time since I can remember dating back to when the Pandemic shut down the Courts. During the Pandemic, and afterwards, most Courts have opted for virtual attendances. This has lead to increased efficiency for our Courts. They can do more, with less resources. It also translates into considerable savings for clients and self represented litigants. They don’t have to pay for their lawyer’s travel time, or any mileage, parking etc. Clients and litigants also don’t have to travel either. They can log in to Court from the comfort of their own home. That is more comfortable, and less intimidating for clients and litigants.
But this Court (in Guelph) required an in person attendance for the hearing of an Application under the Insurance Act as it related to a catastrophic car accident case. It was nice to be back in Court, in person.
A few observations after a long lay off from in person Court appearances.
As a lawyer, you take it for granted that you appear robbed in front of a Judge, while litigants and clients are in plain clothes. The robes really make you stand out. This has its positives, and negatives.
Because I was wearing my litigation robes, I was approached by two separate people in the Courthouse who were looking for directions, and also looking for legal advice; and in turn, looking for a lawyer.
As a robbed lawyer, in the Courthouse, you become a part of the production so to say. You wouldn’t see a gowned up lawyer anywhere else but a Courthouse. The robes signal to the world that you are a lawyer, and that they are in a Courthouse where laws get made.
Being asked for legal advice, or being asked whether or not I could help a stranger with their case was not odd. It kinda happens all of the time once people find out that you’re a lawyer. Everyone seems to have a hypothetical question regarding a “friend’s” legal problem which they want solved, or some tips on how to manage the situation. But, it had been a long time since that happened randomly inside of a Courthouse because it had been so long since I needed to attend at Court in person.
The would be client didn’t know my name. Didn’t know my practice area, and didn’t know a thing about me other than I was a lawyer. And the only reason which he knew that I was a lawyer was because I was in my robes, inside of the Courthouse. And because I was wearing my robes and signaling to the world that I was a lawyer; the person took it as a signal that he was free to ask me anything.
The person had questions about a custody dispute, which is an area of the law I don’t practice. I’m a personal injury lawyer.
The main level of the Brampton Courthouse was for bail hearings, and set date hearing on criminal matters. The hallways were always bustling with lawyers, litigants, and their family members. There were lawyers who were meeting their clients for the first time in those hallways. There were countless deals being made in those hallways. There were also lawyers who were finding new clients in those hallways. If you were a criminal lawyer, and you needed some new clients, all you needed to do was attend at the Courthouse, and you would pick up some new clients. Those days have long since changed, especially after COVID. I would also add that the intercom in the Courthouse was constantly sending out messages paging people to different Courtrooms. The intercom was proceeded by a “binging” sound, which I can still hear in my ears whenever I think of the Brampton Courthouse. It took some time to get used to that binging, but it was constantly going off. I imagine that criminal lawyers who spend lots of time in the Brampton Courthouse hear that binging in their dreams at night.
A few other observations from being back in person at Court.
It was nice to chat with the Court staff, and other lawyers. The Court staff could give you a sort of sense of the pulse on how the Courts were running. Are they busy? Are they slow? Are they understaffed? Are people calling in sick? Are they running on time, or late? Are they completely swamped with files? The sense I got is that they have a travelling road show of Judges; with far too many files to handle. If they had more Judges, more staff, more courtrooms, they would be able to hear more cases in a day.
Speaking with other lawyers is also nice as well. Files can get settled in the hallways of Courtrooms because there is face to face interaction. Litigants can see one another and potentially work things out. This happens a lot in the context of commercial litigation. The decision makes come to the table, see their counterparts and often without the assistance of their lawyers, are able to hammer out a deal. This can also happen in personal injury litigation as well once everyone is under the roof of a Courthouse with an imminent Courtroom appearance approaching. The certainty of working out a settlement where the parties have some degree of control; beats the uncertainty of a trial in many instances where the parties leave the decision making to a Judge and Jury.
One of the negatives of in person Court was the time wasted waiting around. It has always been a real thing for lawyers and litigants. Going to Court becomes an exercise in “hurry up and wait”. You hurry to get to Court on time and sign in. Once you arrive, there is a lot of waiting around. You are waiting for the Court staff to set up. You wait for interpreters to arrive. You wait for the reporter to arrive (and set up). You wait for the other parties to arrive and for court staff to page the other party or litigant. You get the idea. There is a lot of waiting for your case to be heard.