Publishing a quarterly magazine requires predicting the future. At Precedent, we start to plan each issue about five or six months in advance, which means we have to anticipate what the world will look like at that time. When we hold photo shoots in the dead of winter, we invite our subjects to wear something “colourful and springlike” so that their wardrobes won’t seem out of place. We choose stories with long shelf lives, so our content will be relevant half a year away. At the best of times, it’s like we’re writing a letter to an unknown future. But never in my 13 years of making Precedent has the future been so entirely unknown.
We began our work on this issue in January when we put out a call for nominations for our annual Precedent Setter Awards. Around the same time, the World Health Organization had identified a new virus in Wuhan, China. In early February, we hosted a dinner with a panel of lawyer judges who evaluated the nominations and selected the winners. We sat close to one another as we deliberated; hugs and handshakes were exchanged. Meanwhile, the novel coronavirus had begun to spread throughout the globe.
On Thursday, March 12, the winners of the Precedent Setter Awards arrived at a west-end photo studio to have their portraits taken. When I made my way to the photo shoot that morning, I had no idea it would be the last day of normal. By the end of the day, every major sports league had suspended its season, and Premier Doug Ford had announced that students would not be returning to school after March Break.
In the end, it was a stroke of luck that we held this photo shoot on the last day it would have been possible. We’re so fortunate to be able to profile the winners alongside such terrific photography. But other parts of the magazine had to shift. Because we weren’t able to photograph our Best Practices subject, David Shellnutt, before the lockdown, you’ll see we have an illustration of him instead. Unfortunately, there is no Secret Life department at all; it was simply impossible to take a photo of a lawyer with an impressive hobby (although we did have someone great in mind).
Perhaps the biggest change, though, was that we decided not to physically print this issue of Precedent. Since our launch in 2007, we have sent 49 print issues to the desks of Toronto lawyers. But since we were fairly certain that most of you wouldn’t be at your offices when this issue landed at the end of May, we had to reach you entirely online. It was a hard decision to make but hopefully the right one. In the meantime, I am eager to return to a day when we can schedule photo shoots and attend lawyer parties. And I can’t wait to once again send our print magazines to your office.
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More from the Summer Issue
This story is from our Summer 2020 Issue.
Photography by Ian Patterson