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Cover image of the Manitoba Law Journal Volume 46, Issue 3, created by Lily Deardorff.

Cover image of the Manitoba Law Journal Volume 46, Issue 3, created by Lily Deardorff.

Manitoba Law Journal Takes Close Look at ODR

How Technology and COVID Changed Practice

July 9, 2024 — 

As the legal profession moves further into the bold new—virtual—world of web-based services, the MLJ’s Executive Editors, Dr. Bryan P. Schwartz and Professor Darcy L. MacPherson, are excited to announce a new special issue about Online Dispute Resolution (ODR). The project is part 2 of a trilogy of issues centered on how the Canadian legal system deals with crisis in the modern age.

Volume 46, Issue 3, Online Dispute Resolution: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic, is part oral history, part academic exploration of ODR. The issue begins with an introductory word from Darcy MacPherson, reminding us that, though many of us would have rather not hit “pause,” or seen the programming of our daily lives change, crisis is, and was, an opportunity for positive change through adaptation and recognition of our shared needs.

The first article sets the stage for the issue by diving into the possibility of developing a more rigorous, post-COVID system of ODR in Manitoba, one bringing together existing and novel applications of ODR, drawn from across Canada and the UK, into a comprehensive whole. The next piece, co-authored by our Faculty’s Dean Richard Jochelson, now-Judge David Ireland, and Brandon Trask et al peers into the possibility of developing a system of virtual jury trials – they take an empirical look, through news-media articles, at Canada’s courts’ reactions to, and concerns with, resuming jury trials during the pandemic.

The oral histories – interviews with some of Winnipeg’s leaders in collaborative family, child protection, civil, administrative, labour and employment law, mediation, arbitration, and legislation – make up the bulk of this special issue. The stories they tell, and lessons they provide, are both insightful and entertaining, full of both skillful flourishes and the occasional faux pas.

Kris Saxberg touches on everything under the civil-law sun, from child protection and the needs of Indigenous communities relative to current tech systems, to administrative law, to many Canadians’ favorite comedy trio, “The Trailer Park Boys,” and the “right” to smoke and drink in (virtual) court. Greg Evans digs into the collaborative potential of a family law practice, the “perfect” Family Law class (it involves people yelling on the phone), practice management and competency in the tech era, and the positives and pitfalls of access to online legal services.

Cynthia Lazar shares her seasoned perspective on virtual negotiations and collective bargaining, the pitfalls of virtual testimony, and how to elicit that sweet “Legally Blonde” gotcha-moment, while Pamela Leech and Dr. Schwartz discuss the bane of many a practitioner or professor’s career – screen share – as well as post-COVID technology they would like to see stick around.

Deputy Minister Dave Wright closes out the issue with a birds-eye view of the pandemic and how justice technology has or hasn’t advanced (and jealousy of B.C.), how crisis forced long-awaited reform, and the challenges that endure into the present. All of these perspectives, proposals, and anecdotes come together to provide a snapshot of a moment in legal history that was unprecedented in the modern era, but that might form a valuable precedent moving forward, helping us, our clients, and our educators adapt, overcome, and ultimately thrive in the at-times-questionable circumstances we find ourselves.

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