Sharing how their firms are leveraging technology are Kirsten Thompson, Law’98, of Dentons, Hugh Christie, Law’81, of Ogletree Deakins, Stephen Shamie, Law’86, of Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP, and Carman Overholt, Law’84, of  Overholt Law.
Sharing how their firms are leveraging technology are Kirsten Thompson, Law’98, of Dentons, Hugh Christie, Law’81, of Ogletree Deakins, Stephen Shamie, Law’86, of Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP, and Carman Overholt, Law’84, of Overholt Law.

As Queen’s Law faculty have been transitioning quickly to teach students remotely, law firms have been doing the same to serve clients. Across Canada and around the globe, alumni are leading the way in using the latest technology to deliver sage and timely advice to clients, many of whose needs for critical legal services are a direct result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Four grads share what their firms are doing to cope with the COVID-19 crisis. 

Kirsten Thompson, Law’98
Partner, Dentons Canada LLP (Toronto); National Leader, Transformative Technologies and Data Strategy Group

As Dentons’ Chief Privacy Officer, I work closely with the firm’s Chief Talent Officer in managing employee, client, and health concerns. 
Dentons was fairly well prepared for COVID-19 because we’re a global firm. When the disease was first getting traction in China, where we have offices, it trigged our global pandemic response. 
We have had the flexibility for our lawyers and some staff to work remotely for some time and, in late February, we tested our digital systems to see if they could handle the strain of everyone working from home. We were delighted to find out we didn’t knock Dentons off the grid.
Further, we have technology we use for our clients that we have been able to repurpose for our own use. We have set up a COVID portal for clients and an internal-facing one as well, both leveraging the learnings from our international colleagues.
We also have an AI application that can review a large number of contracts quickly, and have redeployed it for clients who need to review force majeure clauses to determine whether COVID allows them to cancel contracts without penalty, or whether their suppliers who have cancelled contracts due to COVID are entitled to do so.

Hugh Christie, Law’81 (Artsci’78)
Managing Partner, Ogletree Deakins, Toronto

Ogletree is a bit ahead of the curve (and helping to flatten it!). We are used to working remotely from each other, as a result of our international footprint and heavy investment in technology. 
We currently try to have one staff member and one lawyer in the office for part of each day in Toronto, and the Montreal office is entirely virtual, meaning working from home. Each lawyer and each staff member has a laptop, printer and scanner, and so far, we are able to join answer client concerns in a timely manner. 

We have a 9 am conference call each morning to update each other on what is going on, and in particular, to share approaches around particular questions clients have about how to manage a workplace in the face of COVID-19. From a managing partner’s point of view, it also gives me a chance to check in to see how the group is doing through the related stress. 

I also try to check in on each person every other day or so in a one-on-one call. So far, spirits are high, and people are being remarkably resilient. As with the rest of society, we will get through this together. 

The tougher part is that we have a very international firm. While travel has been stopped, we have some people in their 14-day, self-isolated advised (wisely) by Health Canada after returning from prior travel. That puts a disproportionate demand on others until it is over. 

On the positive side, in the way the practice of law works, rather Confucian, (that old curse of living in interesting times, now that’s Michael Pickard oblique!!) is that the questions being asked of us are really challenging, and our younger lawyers are learning a ton as we work through problems for clients. For instance, figuring out the intersection of safety rules around the virus versus the privacy rights of individual workers. We are reaching a much more nuanced approach to that; all the while helping clients through new, largely uncharted, territory.

And for the older crowd in our Toronto office, we had a virtual POITS last Friday. With all of the isolation being practised, we want to pay attention to the human element, and the mental health aspects of isolation. 
Stephen Shamie, Law’86
Managing Partner, Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP, Toronto

Our firm’s executive committee managed our response to COVID-19. At first, we focused on protecting members of the firm via a series of policies managing overseas travel. As the COVID-19 situation escalated, we shifted to adapting our operations and using technology to support our clients and our practice. 

Our lawyers and students are out of the office frequently in their practice and were already set up to work remotely, accessing key systems securely via their laptops. Consequently, they were able to pivot to a work-from-home model very quickly. We also migrated several groups of assistants and staff to work from home, and implemented a triage model to ensure lawyers had the administrative support they needed. 

At this time, most of the firm is working from home and we have a skeleton staff in our offices, with contingencies in place when that is no longer an option. While the situation continues to evolve, we are settling in. Lawyers are using meeting tools like Zoom and Skype to hold meetings with clients and attend hearings, and, of course, they are always reachable on their phones (via cell or email). 

Our lawyers, supported by our Knowledge Management Group, are actively and continuously working to provide timely and critical advice to our clients on how to manage their workplaces through these difficult times. We have run several webcasts, published a variety of articles on our website, and stepped up our Twitter presence to provide useful information to clients and the community. 

Internally, we have set up a “pandemic planning resource hub,” a one-stop shop that houses links to our publications, government announcements, templates and charts. Our pandemic planning group is sharing developments as they occur, and we are capturing our advice on our intranet so that we can communicate it to clients in the most efficient and consistent way. It has been a busy time!  

Carman Overholt, Law’84
Founder, Overholt Law (Vancouver, B.C.)

When I established my own law firm in 2012, one aspect of practice that was important to me was being able to easily access my network remotely. I wanted a secure network to ensure confidentiality recognizing the importance of being able to maintain the high standards expected of us. With good IT support, I was able to provide the six lawyers and articled student in my firm remote access so work can be done remotely. In my experience, we have been able to address client work in a very timely way that has created goodwill and loyalty to our firm. With conference call services, we can provide service in a seamless way. Although we prefer to meet clients in person, that is not always possible nor what clients expect. I find the meetings with colleagues and exchange of ideas to be one of the aspects of private practice that I enjoy the most. Those meetings and the exchange of ideas does not have to happen through in-person meetings.

In establishing a practice with traditional offices in downtown Vancouver, I never considered the framework for providing services remotely to be anything more than making it easier for me to work outside of normal business hours. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has required us to think differently about how we live and work. I have been able to maintain our practice and service to our clients because of technology that permits us to work outside of traditional law offices and to serve our clients efficiently and to a high standard. 

When the current crisis has passed, I expect that we will be more inclined to encourage work remotely. I also expect that technology will continue to be an important way for us to innovate and provide more cost-effective advice to address increasingly complex legal issues and challenges.