Lawyers Using Technology to Continue Serving Clients during the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everybody’s lives over the past months. It has certainly had a huge impact on the ability of people to obtain common legal services in the way they are accustomed.
Social distancing, self-isolation, and sheltering in place have put severe restrictions on lawyers’ ability to hold traditional office meetings. Also, the courts are currently closed to all but the most urgent types of cases and the limited hearings that are taking place are generally only by video conference with judges and lawyers interacting remotely.
Fortunately, thanks to technology many important legal processes can continue despite the current restrictions. Many lawyers now offer video conferencing and telephone meetings. In family law, lawyers have been conducting multi-party settlement meetings (with lawyers, clients and any other needed participants) using videoconferencing with everyone participating from their own home or office.
Contracts, including separation agreements or marriage contracts, can be signed electronically thanks to the Ontario Electronic Commerce Act, which has actually been in force for a number of years.
Electronic signatures are not, however, permitted for wills and powers of attorney. Since many people need to have these documents executed despite the current meeting restrictions, the Ontario government has recently made a temporary change to the legal requirements for the signing of wills and powers of attorney (POAs).
While electronic signatures are still not permitted on wills and POAs, the strict requirement that the person making the will or POA sign it in the physical presence of two witnesses, has now been relaxed. Instead the person signing the will or POA and the two witnesses (one of whom must be a lawyer or licensed paralegal) may all link up using video conferencing technology and each may sign a separate copy of the will in the virtual presence of the others with the result that the combined three documents will be recognized in Ontario as a properly executed will or power of attorney.
Marc A. D’Heureux