#LawNeedsWellnessBecause

Recently the #LawNeedsWellnessBecause hashtag was trending on Twitter. Lawyers weighed in on why mental health should be a priority. Amongst the #LawNeedsWellnessBecause tweets, the structure of how lawyers practice was pointed to as a contributor to stress, anxiety, and burnout.

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Despite the structural factors influencing mental health, there is almost an exclusive focus on fixing the individual. In the article “How mindfulness privatised a social problem: The £3.4trn industry encourages a preoccupation with the symptoms of mental illness, rather than their social causes,” Hettie O’Brien in the New Statesman discusses this issue.

O’Brien quotes Purser who argues that mindfulness has become the perfect coping mechanism for neoliberal capitalism. “It privatises stress and encourages people to locate the root of mental ailments in their own work ethic. As a psychological strategy it promotes a particular form of revolution, one that takes place within the heads of individuals fixated on self-transformation, rather than as a struggle to overcome collective suffering.” There is a pre-occupation with the symptoms of stress, rather than overcoming the social causes of stress.

I am not suggesting that mindfulness, medication, exercise, eating well and sleeping well are not important. But when it comes to practicing law, we must also look at the structural factors that create burnout.

There are small ways that we can begin to make changes. For example, Borden Ladner Gervais recently started having an onsite counsellor to help their employees and to help change the conversation around mental health.

At the end of the day, #LawNeedsWellnessBecause “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?” (Famous quote from Rabbi Hillel)

(Views are my own and do not represent the views of any organization. This post was originally posted on slaw.ca)

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Ontario Bar Association: Fall Council Meeting

Over the weekend, the Ontario Bar Association held its annual Fall Council Meeting. There were several amazing speakers. President Colin Stevenson spoke about the barriers to innovation and the ways companies are overcoming these barriers.

Barriers to innovation include:

  • The solitary work of lawyers. Lawyers tend to work alone, even in large law firms.
  • Lawyers tend to be risk adverse, and tend to be unwilling to invest in change.
  • Lawyers that are already successful are hesitant to embrace change.

Colin warned that complacency within our legal profession will lead to the obsolescence of lawyers. The Big 4 Accounting Firms are eating into the mid-level transactional work traditionally done by law firms. For instance, EY has invested $2 billion in innovation.

However, through practice innovation, lawyers can also deal with clients more efficiently. He cited examples of innovation by lawyers. For example: 

  • Osler has launched a new service that streamlines estoppel certificate production. 
  • McCarthy Tetrault has launched MT Divisions.
  • Dentons hired an accountant Beth Wilson to manage the Canadian firm. This step shows the professionalization of law.
  • The Legal Innovation Zone at Ryerson University addresses legal needs not well served by lawyers.

At the meeting Attorney General Douglas Downey spoke about the government’s consultations. The government is currently considering whether the estate system should be changed. Right now all estates are dealt with the same way. Meaning the estate of a billionaire is dealt with the same way as an estate worth $20,000. The complex process leaves some smaller estates in limbo. The government is considering providing a simplified procedure for smaller estates.

Acclaimed author and lawyer Andrew Pyper spoke about the importance of narrative. He talked about his writing process. He begins writing a story by thinking of a body of ideas. He then shaves off the things that don’t work until he gets to the core idea.

Pyper recommended that our stories have a main character and that we identify the stakes. By having a main character, the reader becomes invested. The writer must answer why them and why does the reader care about it. By finding the right question, the author tells the right story.

I truly enjoyed the conference and found the topics enlightening.

(Views are my own and do not represent the views of any organization.)

Court Services of the Future: Online Mediation

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In British Columbia, the Legal Services Society has launched a free, online service called “The Family Resolution Centre”. It is part of My Law BC(delivered by legal aid provider Legal Services Society).

The Family Resolution Centre program of My Law BC helps separated couples create parenting plans online. The parenting plans deal with parenting time, vacations, and other childcare needs. Alternatively, couples can request up to five hours of free assistance from a mediator. It is the first service of its kind in Canada. It can be accessed from mylawbc.com under “Mediation Tool”.

Tools like the Family Resolution Centre are a great way to help address the issue of access to justice. Many problems we typically think of as legal problems are really social problems. In the article titled “Access to What?”, Rebecca Sandefur points out that when solving the access to justice problem we need to redefine “access to justice”. Access to justice does not mean unmet legal needs. “Judges and lawyers work at the top of an enormous iceberg of civil justice activity… the access to justice crisis is a crisis of exclusion and inequality, for which legal services will sometimes provide a solution.” Rather addressing access to justice requires us to think of problems more broadly. For instance, thinking of them as issues in relationships, work, or neighbours.

I hope that similar jurisdictions can implement a similar program to the Family Resolution Centre. The program seems to helps people solve their problems simply and in a manner that the public respects.

(Views are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization. This article was originally posted on slaw.ca)

Blockchain Regulation and Governance Course

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Blockchain and distributed ledger technology are considered by experts to be the biggest technological change since the invention of the internet. Since ancient times money has been the domain of governments. Because digital currencies such as Bitcoin are not created by governments as a central authority, and are being increasingly used to transfer wealth, regulators struggle on how to categorize such digital assets.

It is predicted that 10% of the global GDP will be handled by blockchain by 2027. Starting this Fall on September 19th, The Chang School of Continuing Education part of Ryerson University, is offering a course on blockchain regulation and governance.

The course is being taught by Professor Timothy Storus. Timothy Storus is the former Head of Legal and Compliance Department, Chief Compliance Officer, and Chief Anti-Money Laundering Officer at the Bank of China (Canada).  He has held General Counsel positions at various banks and trust companies over the years.

The course is geared towards legal professionals, regulators, and people with an interest in technology, start-ups, and cryptocurrencies. For lawyers, understanding blockchain and the current law will help them advise clients on contracts, securities, and litigation. Examples of current commercial applications of all three typologies will be explored.

Each class will focus on a different aspect of blockchain technology, including:

  • the difference between crypto-currency and traditional money;
  • the uses of block chain technology;
  • utility tokens;
  • security tokens;
  • fraud, theft, and anti-money laundering efforts; and
  • smart contracts.

The course is taught over 12 weeks, from 6pm-9pm, on Thursday nights (starting September 19). To learn more about the course or to enrol click here.

(Views are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization.)

Privacy Rights in the Internet Age and The New Tort of Public Disclosure of Private Facts

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“Society has been scrambling to catch up to this problem [the publication of intimate photos or videos online without consent] and the law is beginning to respond to protect victims.” – Justice Stinson in Jane Doe 464533 v N.D., 2017 ONSC 127

Gradually courts have been awarding damages for the tort of public disclosure of private information. The tort of public disclosure of private information consists of the following elements: (a) the defendant publicized an aspect of the plaintiff’s private life; (b) the plaintiff did not consent to the publication; (c) its publication would be highly offensive to a reasonable person; and (d) the publication was not of legitimate concern to the public.

In Jane Doe 72511 v N.M., [2018] OJ No. 5741, Jane Doe sued her ex-boyfriend for abusing her and for uploading an intimate video of them online. Jane Doe also sued her abuser’s parents for failing to stop the abuse in their home.

One day, after a highly violent encounter, Jane Doe reported the defendant N.M. to the police. “N.M. forced Jane into his car… N.M. grabbed her head and smashed it into the passenger side window. Jane pulled the mirror down and, seeing that she was bleeding, ripped off the sun visor in shock… N.M. was angry that Jane had damaged the car. He parked in the driveway and came around to her side of the car… he dragged her out of the car by her feet and shoved her into his parents’ house.” He was charged and later convicted of assault.

In retaliation for his criminal conviction, N.M. uploaded a video of them engaged in a sex act. The video was seen over 60,000 times and downloaded an unknown number of times. The video has since been removed at the request of the plaintiff.

In deciding the civil suit, Justice Gomery found that N.M. was liable for assault, battery, and public disclosure of private information. He was ordered to pay her $20,000 in general damages for the abuse and $100,000 for the posting of the video online ($75,000 for general and aggravated damages and $25,000 in punitive damages). His parents were also found to be jointly and severally liable for Jane’s damages from the assault and battery as occupiers of the house. As occupiers of the house, they had a duty to take steps to keep her safe while she was there.

In recognizing the tort of public disclosure of private information, Justice Gomery reaffirmed that the courts should provide a civil recourse for victims of public disclosure of private information. Justice Gomery wrote that our courts need to “address a challenge posed by new technology… Failing to provide a remedy in this case would deprive Jane of recourse in the face of the breach of her privacy rights.”

In this case, the website was not sued for the publication of the video. Perhaps the company running the website was outside the jurisdiction of Canada. In which case, the best recourse may be to pressure the company in charge of the domain name registration to disable the site’s web address. (see the NYT article “Shut the Site Down,’ Says the Creator of 8chan, a Megaphone for Gunmen.) However, if there was a connection to Ontario, then courts should be willing to assume jurisdiction and sanction a company in the appropriate circumstances.

In the article “Ontario’s New Invasion of Privacy Torts”, Sarit Mizrahi writes that “the courts should be willing to treat a company’s decision to utilize inadequate security measures as sufficient to engage the tort of intrusion upon seclusion and public disclosure of private facts where the risk of privacy is appreciated.” Malicious users exist beyond revenge porn, including hackers. Hackers can exploit security flaws in our devices to breach privacy rights and disclose private information. For example, hackers can gain access to a television’s microphone and listen in on you in your home; hackers can gain access to a baby monitor; they can access a company’s database of credit cards and release the information.

Mizrahi writes that “While the law obliges these companies to protect the information and devices against unauthorized access, the reality is that the steps taken are often insufficient to abolish the security flaws exploited by malicious users… users are often left without a sufficient legal remedy for this serious invasion of their privacy.” By recognizing a civil right of action, the courts are enabling individuals to enforce their privacy rights.

(This article was originally posted on slaw.caViews are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization.)

Court Forms: Should They be Eliminated?

 

Court forms are confusing. They are difficult to fill in and contain legal jargon. Even worst, the guides for court forms can be hard to follow. Especially, if you do not have a strong grasp of English or an understanding of the court system.

I have personally witnessed numerous people struggle with court forms, both while waiting to file a court document and while volunteering at a legal clinic.  In the article “Literacy Requirements of Court Documents: An Underexplored Barrier to Access to Justice“, Professor Amy Salzyn, et al., write about the difficulties in navigating court forms. For example, some forms indicate “no.” in place of the word number. Other forms refer to “pre-judgment interest”, without providing an explanation for what “pre-judgment interest” means. Even using the word “plaintiff”, without an explanation, can be confusing.

What is the solution?

Most court forms should be eliminated. Instead, the government should remove forms that are essentially duplicates of each other and leaving only the most necessary forms. The remaining forms should be designed with accessibility and the user in mind.

When designing for the user, we should consider the best format. Perhaps the best format is a fillable online form. The user could be asked questions online, and then the answers could be used to generate the court forms. The questions could be asked in writing or by video. For originating claims, questions should be asked to ensure that the form is being filed in the right jurisdiction.

Guides for completing the forms should be available in multiple formats, from written formats to videos to infographics. The guides should be simple. Less words, the better.

Common types of claims should have examples online for people to follow. The forms should also contain links to legislation so people know that they are referencing the right laws and can read the laws.

After the forms are completed, people should be directed to videos and written guides explaining the next steps. People should be able to book court appearances online. There should be an easy portal to follow.

Eventually each case, should have its own electronic file. Where litigants and judges can access the pleadings, motions, and court decisions for each case.

Unfortunately, in Ontario there has been little success in creating electronic filing or better court forms. But how much longer can our court system rely exclusively on paper and retain the confidence of the public?

(Originally posted on slaw.caViews are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization.)

 

Is Selling Prescription Eyewear Online Legal?

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Nowadays you can buy almost anything online: clothing, food, glasses, jewelry, medication, mattresses, and the list goes on. So is there a problem with buying prescription eyewear online?

The College of Optometrists of Ontario thought so. The College launched a court application against Essilor Group Canada Inc. for operating the online retailer Clearly.ca and Coastal. Almost every action taken by Clearly and Coastal happened in British Columbia. Consumers would order the glasses and contacts online, using a prescription from their doctor, and the glasses and contacts would be shipped from British Columbia. By ordering online, consumers would miss out on having their pupillary distance tailor-measured by a professional for their specific eyewear.

In the case College of Optometrists of Ontario et al v. Essilor Group Canada Inc., 2018 ONSC 206, the College argued that there was a risk of harm in allowing prescription eyewear and contacts to be sold online. Essilor argued that the College was actually concerned with maintaining a monopoly in Ontario by preventing online retail from operating in Ontario.

Justice Lederer ruled that the company violated the Regulated Health Professionals Act by accepting orders for prescription eyewear from Ontario residents in British Columbia and delivering them to Ontario residents. “Eyeglasses and contact lenses are to be dispensed with the proper involvement of an optometrist or optician licensed in Ontario.”

The Ontario Court of Appeal reversed the decision of Justice Lederer. Justice Brown, writing for the court, reasoned in College of Optometrists of Ontario v. Essilor Group Inc., 2019 ONCA 265, that a customer’s placement of an order from an Ontario-located device does not amount to dispensing eyewear. At paragraph 126, Justice Brown writes that: “the act of delivering eyewear to a person primarily has a commercial aspect, not a health care one… Where the supplier of the prescription eyewear operates in another province and complies with that province’s health professions regulatory regime when filling an online order placed by an Ontario customer, the final act of delivering that product to the Ontario purchaser does not amount to the performance of a ‘controlled act’ by the supplier.”

Justice Brown further wrote that applying the Regulated Health Professionals Act to the online sale of eyewear would grant a commercial monopoly to Ontario’s optometrists and opticians over the distribution of orders for prescription eyewear. If the legislature meant to do so, then it would need to legislate it explicitly. 

I anticipate the courts will be dealing with similar cases by regulatory bodies in the years to come. As the internet changes the way services are delivered, regulatory bodies will continue to question whether:

  • (a) there has been the unauthorized practice of medicine, law, engineering, teaching, accounting, and so on; and
  • (b) if the public’s safety has been undermined by providing these services online. 

In many instances, online services are a safe alternative to in-person services, like Telemedicine. In the book the Future of the Professions, Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind write that “Many professionals seem to have lost sight of the reasons why we have personal interaction in the first place. It is a feature of the one-to-one nature of the traditional approach. As a consequence of its longstanding presence, it has gained an aura of indispensability. But we have to remember its origins – only as a feature … of sharing practical expertise. If, however, we can find better ways of sharing that expertise that require less personal interaction, then we should not defend this interaction for its own sake.”

(Views are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization.)