Many lawyers boast about being virtual, paper free and 100% remote. This is fantastic and something which we should all strive for given the current climate brought on by the COVID19 global pandemic. If COVID19 has done anything for the legal profession, it’s opened the legal community’s eyes that we as a profession are desperately behind the times when it comes to incorporating technology in to the general practice of law.
I place the majority of the blame on our inept Court system along with our archaic filing practices. Lawyers CANNOT file a majority of materials with the Court electronically. Process servers for in person Court filings are required, otherwise you will face the wrath of rejected materials. Courts have never wanted to hold teleconferences for mundane consent or unopposed matters. Courts still require personal attendances at the expense of everyone’s time, money and resources. I hope that all of this will change when we reach the light at the end of the COVID19 tunnel.
I can go on and on about inefficiencies of our Courts and legal practices along with how we can all improve with technology; but this is a topic for another day.
The purpose of this week’s instalment of the Toronto Injury Lawyer Blog is to focus on the daily activities of a personal injury law practice which have been impacted by COVID19. For today we will let you in behind the curtain of Goldfinger Injury Lawyers to understand what goes on behind the scenes to keep our law firm running in a time of crisis.
The lawyers who I recognize boasting online that their practices are 100% remote are mostly those lawyers who earn a salaried wage. They are not business owners. They are in large part removed from the day to day, nitty gritty which go hand in hand with operating, managing and running a law firm. Such lawyers are employees or contractors of a legal operation of some sort. Think of in house lawyers, associates or even partners of a larger law firm.
Some may be “partners“. But the term “partner” can often be misleading. There are equity partners vs. non equity partners. Equity partners have skin in the game. Non equity partners can exist for name recognition only, and don’t have any skin in the game compared to their equity partner counterparts. A non equity partner can walk away from a sinking ship without any real consequence. At the same time, even equity partners can find a way to buy out, walk away or totally collapse the firm if things aren’t going well without significant personal loss. See Goodman & Carr or Heenan Blaikie
An owner of a law firm is responsible for paying rent, office supplies, making payroll, paying for professional membership dues, operational overhead, marketing overhead etc. These are great responsibilities which feed family and fuel many different industries (legal, office supply, marketing, telecom, tech, furniture, security, cleaning and the list goes on).
My law firm feeds 4 lawyers and 2 law clerks and 1 licensed paralegal. Our paycheques in turn pay for domestic rent, groceries, clothing, car leases and the general necessities of daily life.
There are some real practical problems operating a law firm during this time of crisis.
Mail and other deliveries arrive every day. Someone needs to open, sort and scan in the arrivals, so the rest can work remotely.
Cheques from insurers arrive every day. Someone needs to open, scan, sort and deposit those funds. Interesting to note is that insurers (with very few exceptions) don’t use direct deposit or electronic transfer. When funds are paid out on a settlement, they arrive by way of cheque.
These cheques can be of very large. A great day will see a seven figure settlement.
And because these cheques can be large, it’s necessary to physically go to the bank and deposit these funds in person.
Most on line banking apps for your smartphone will NOT accept cheques over a certain denomination. For TD Bank, that denomination is $25,000 per day. As a personal injury lawyer, if you settle a case for over $25,000, it will require you or someone from your office to personally attend at the bank to deposit the funds. And doing this would be wise given that the funds are going in to your trust account and you want everything nicely documented for your accountant and the Law Society.
Some banks offer in house scanning machines for deposits (with monetary limits and holds), while others don’t.
Unlike criminal, estate or family lawyers; personal injury lawyers don’t deal with cash or credit card payments. We deal entirely with cheques when it comes to money, so bankings is VERY important to us. Many criminal lawyers have safes in their offices for evidence or cash payments. You likely won’t see a safe in an personal injury lawyer’s office. There is simply no need. No cash there. All cheques, which all need to be deposited or paid out to clients to keep the lights on.
Let me now paint you the picture of what banks look like today during COVID19. For starters, many branches have closed in order to consolidate banking operations an effort to flatten the curve. In our case, our local branch is closed forcing us to bank at a branch which is no longer walking distance from our Toronto Office.
There are LINE UPS which run around the bank branches to get inside. These line ups are created in order to ensure social distancing, but it still isn’t a good sign for people who want an in and out experience to neutralize human contact during a time of contagion. I drove by no less than 6 bank branches today, all of which had lines going outside of the door and around the buildings.
It’s not just the depositing of larger cheques which needs to be done in person. Clients wish to have settlement funds certified. The certification of a cheque cannot be done online. It needs to be done in person at the bank branch.
Transferring funds directly to a client by way of direct deposit (when it’s a one time deposit which is often he case for personal injury clients) needs to be done in person at the bank branch as well. I suppose that you can email a client his/her settlement funds, but there are monetary limits on the amount which can be sent at a time and per day, along with associated fees for the e-mail transfer of funds which would need to be taken from the general account and not the trust account which may be tricky to specify electronically where those fees are being taken from. This would like have to take place over a few days and is not the most expedient way to get a client his/her money.
Need to get a hold of a Small Business Manager during COVID19? There is 3+ hour phone waits for TD Bank, along with associated wait times for other major Canadian banks. The other solution is make a meeting with your bank manager to go in. You can try setting up a phone call, but good luck getting a reasonable time or the answers you need. Often the answer is that they cannot access your account without getting someone else in on the call or asking to come in to the branch in person.
Medical records are another archaic story. Doctors, hospitals and rehab clinics won’t release funds until their accounts are honoured. This is normal and perfectly acceptable. Some clinics accept credit card payment, but most clinics and hospitals do NOT. They need cheques. This will take your clerk to print up the cheque, make sure that it’s properly documented in the file and on the list of disbursements, along with a signature from the person with signing authority (who is likely different than the person who prepared the cheque).
Once the medical records arrive, they don’t come in via nice scanned email PDF. It’s often a large brick paperwork which is sometimes double sided and illegible. These records need to be scanned, sorted and deciphered. The sorting and scanning requires someone to physically be at the office to receive the package, and scan hundreds of pages of medical records.
Having reviewed medical records for personal injury cases since articling in 2003, I can tell you that it’s far easier on the eyes, and easier to decipher and understand the paper records vs the electronic records. Your eyes will thank you as the years go by. This is significant because it’s another example of needing someone to staff the office while the world is on lock down so people can work remotely.
Need more stamps? Only one post machine for outgoing mail? Need office supplies for staff working remotely? Logistics of getting a file pulled from storage? Logistics of transferring closed file to storage? Personal injury client who doesn’t have a computer, scanner or regular access to a phone who was accustom to in person meetings? Clients who aren’t tech savvy and don’t understand how to use the internet let alone Zoom technology? Client needing grab bars installed in to their shower but no contractor is willing to do the job during COVID19? Client requiring attendant care but no attendant can come in due to COVID19. Client requesting in person meeting because they can’t read? How to prepare for mediation or examination of discovery without an in person meeting? How are we going to bind our materials and briefs which need to be filed with the Court (hard copies).
All of these are considerations in the days of COVID19. Everyday brings new problems, for which we do our best to find creative solutions. Lawyers have been deemed an essential service. We as lawyers have an obligation to push forward and make things work as best we can during this time of crisis. Now if only the banks will step up and increase the mobile limits for their business users……