Professionals who graduate from a law clerk program perform a wide range of tasks necessary for the upkeep of a healthy, functional legal system. These experts adeptly exercise their legal knowledge by conducting rigorous research, and drafting and preparing documents, letters, memos, and reports. The wide range of their abilities renders them invaluable to offices in a variety of fields, from real estate to corporate law.
Like all other positions in the legal system, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way that law clerks work in Ontario. Though things are creeping back to normal, adjustments to guard against the virus will be part of the structure of the law clerk profession for many months to come. Read on to find out more.
Courts Suspended Operations When Coronavirus Hit
When the coronavirus started making headlines back in the spring, Canada began to think seriously about how to avoid catastrophes like those that had happened in Wuhan and Italy.
Throughout the nation, institutions formed relationships with experts to create guidelines of conduct during the pandemic. What this meant for our legal systems is that by the end of March, the Ontario Superior Court and the Court of Appeal temporarily suspended their normal operations.
All matters that were scheduled to be heard after the 17th of March were adjourned until further notice, even those conducted through telephone and videoconference. However, they did remain open for matters deemed time-sensitive and urgent. This was also true for all Ontario tribunals, the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, Landlord and Tenant Board, and Human Rights Tribunal.
Professionals in possession of a law clerk diploma would have found their daily tasks slowed to a halt. The time limits that typically would apply to commencing claims and filing documents with courts and tribunals were also paused, tasks that law clerks are usually assigned. This period of stagnancy and hesitation has serious consequences for the profession in general, with law clerks now clamouring to make up for the break.
Courts Cautiously Adapting to the Coronavirus
After many months of caution, the Ontario Court of Justice began to cautiously expand its operations at the beginning of July. As of July 6th, the Ontario Court of Justice started to reschedule trials and preliminary inquiries that had been suspended in the spring. This was the first phase of an incremental plan to prepare the court system for reopening. The current targeted completion date of the plan is the first day of November.
What this means for graduates of a law clerk program is a slight adjustment to their typical duties. To attempt to lessen the spread of the coronavirus, all legal documents are to be filed in electronic format only for the foreseeable future.
There are very specific constraints around how to adhere to this rule. Documents must be filed according to the Ontario Guidelines for Filing Electronic Documents. As well, they need to be in text-searchable PDF format and filed either through email or through a USB key delivered by courier. Documents that require filing under seal must be password-protected. To ensure additional safety, clerks need to verify the security of any files that are saved on online or cloud-based drives.
How Professionals with a Law Clerk Diploma Can Adjust to Coronavirus
As a law clerk, the central way you can adjust to working under the coronavirus pandemic is to ensure you’re in good health. If possible, get tested with some regularity for the disease, especially if you were recently in contact with others who have tested positive. Wear a mask when in public and isolate from others as much as possible. If you’re exhibiting symptoms of the disease, quarantine yourself and consult a health expert.
Law clerks can apply their specialized research skills during the coronavirus pandemic. Stay up to date on all recommended guidelines, both from the government and health experts, as well as from the courts and legal authorities. When conferring with colleagues and clients, attend to adequate social distancing and sanitary practices, and perform everything from a distance through the Internet or phone when possible.
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