Many in the legal profession are stretched thin when providing legal services during the pandemic. Working from home often blurs the distinction between work and “not-work”. A co-worker recently told me that with her computer on in her kitchen, it is as if she is always working.  Adding issues of child-care and home-schooling, or caring for isolated seniors only serves to heighten the complexity of the lawyer’s life.

(Clearly, non-lawyers face these challenges as well: often to a greater degree. Many lawyers have the luxury of being able to continue to work. Others are not so lucky.)

A recent decision of Justice Myers acknowledges the heightened demands on lawyers, judges and court staff during the pandemic, and the effect that these may have on their health and well-being.

Briefly, the case involved a commercial lease issue. The landlord wanted to rent out space in a mall to a call centre. Another tenant in the mall objected, asserting that is had a right to consent to the lease, and that the call centre would change the retail nature of the mall.

The landlord entered into a lease with the call centre that had a conditional period expiring February 1, 2021, in order to allow the landlord to obtain a court determination of the tenant’s claim to a right to consent. A court date was set for January 29, 2021, but counsel for the tenant was not available. A hearing on Saturday, January 30 was proposed by Justice Myers. Counsel for the tenant resisted, saying that “while his firm has conducted a fair bit of work during the pandemic on weekends and evenings, they have ‘been encouraged to be alive to the effects of doing so on younger members of the team who have childcare commitments etc.’”

Justice Myers noted that the court makes efforts to accommodate business transactions and recognizes real-time schedules. However, of significance, the court must also recognize the realities of lawyers’ lives and well-being.

The court takes very seriously issues of health and wellness of practitioners, members of the judiciary, and court staff during the pandemic in particular. While lawyers and the courts are in a service business, there has to be a brake applied to service providers’ willingness to compete themselves (or their juniors) into unhealthy states in the ordinary course of business. Recognizing that young counsel and staff may have other responsibilities or just need down time does not impair access to justice provided that everyone understands the need to make personal sacrifices when truly urgent circumstances arise.

Ultimately, a hearing date of February 4, 2021, was set. “Absent urgency that was not voluntarily assumed, I find it to be in the interests of justice to grant the adjournment sought.”

It is good to see that the court is recognizing the demands being placed on those in the legal profession, and the increase in these demands as a result of the pandemic. Yesterday was Bell Let’s Talk Day. Their motto, “When it comes to mental health, now more than ever, every action counts” is particularly apt.

Have a great weekend.

Paul Trudelle