Order in the court! The Case of Virtual Courtrooms vs COVID-19

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to push the country toward a lot of uncertainty, many legal cases are left in its wake. The courts are tasked with processing the most urgent matters first, while many other cases deemed less essential are waiting in the wings or moving ahead cautiously. This slowdown in activity in the legal world and all over the world has meant attorneys have had to rethink their day to day processes to comply with government-imposed physical distancing guidelines, closed offices, and confused clients. This leads to a situation of justice via Virtual Courtrooms vs COVID-19. Courtrooms across the nation have been turning to video conferencing to keep the wheels of justice in motion as social distancing and stay-at-home directives remain in place for many localities. In many states where courts have significantly restricted in-person proceedings, virtual courtrooms have become increasingly common. To adapt, courts have been installing webcams, microphones, and large video monitors which can allow the judge and others to communicate with court reporters, jailed defendants, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and other personnel in remote offices.

This new reality caught many off-guard. The courthouses are mostly empty and normal court fixtures such as jail deputies, court reporters and jurors are also social distancing. Legal videoconferencing has been amped up like never before had has been filling the void and enabling all legal parties to appear virtually. The move toward virtual court proceedings during and after a pandemic, is helping to alleviate some of the issues and time-related setbacks that courts have struggled with for years, but especially now. For many, the courts’ current tech-infused processes of justice – created in response to the coronavirus, may open the door to changing the status quo and how things may work beyond the end of this global health crisis.

As the world waits for things to return to normal, there is a very real possibility that we may actually be looking at new type of normal. A shift toward a virtual court system has made it possible for participants in both essential and emergency proceedings to appear remotely via Zoom or Skype dramatically reducing the number of people present in the courthouses in order to protect public health and safety. Minimal core teams of essential staff will remain at many courthouses to ensure security, video conferencing equipment, process orders, court records, and other court essentials are functioning smoothly. This has become possible due to round-the-clock efforts of the court system’s judges and staff particularly the technology teams−as well as the support of each courts’ many justice partners. The courts are working amid the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure continued access to the judicial system while prioritizing the health and safety of judges and staff, court users and the public. A series of unprecedented, temporary measures have been implemented in courts across the country: beginning with health and safety restrictions on courthouse entry by at-risk persons; consolidating essential matters in a limited number of designated court parts and  statewide transitions to virtual court operations, which will eliminate person-to-person contact in court proceedings and minimize courthouse traffic.

Judicial emergencies have been extended into the foreseeable future. That means civil and criminal jury trials will continue to be on hold, and no new juries or grand juries can be called. The question now is: could online proceedings continue after the pandemic and how will the attorneys and the legal industry in general, proceed? There will be some types of benefits that will be useful in the future such as the fact that no one will have to continue to pay for parking or worry about traffic or lines at security or even long waits for the elevator. There will likely be a reduction in the backlog of cases so the halls will not be overflowing with people waiting for their turn to get in front of a judge. Legal parties will be more often waiting in their living rooms to get in front of a judge. In time, it is expected that people will get comfortable with this new way of handling legal issues, and they may even prefer it. Law offices will also need to strengthen their legal tech systems to be ready for this era of virtual lawyering. Investing in an all-in-one law practice solution and top-rated legal case management software can help attorneys run a better law practice and provide their clients with exceptional service in-person or virtually.  Is your firm ready for Virtual Courtrooms vs COVID-19?

There are still, however, concerns that virtual appearances could negatively impact self-represented litigants. The jury is still out on the future of virtual appearances. Legal technology will likely evolve very quickly to better accommodate the intricacies of the justice system. In light of unequal access to high-speed internet and other obstacles, many courts have made changes to the requirements for self-represented litigants to appear virtually unless they have volunteered to do so. For cases that must move forward before courts reopen, some courts have been petitioned to allow self-represented litigants to join hearings by phone without video. Today’s lawyers must be ready to embrace the quickly changing call for better legal technology software that is more efficient and seamless during these uncertain times. From easy-to-use form builders  for online intake forms to automated text & email reminders to mobile device-friendly multimedia messaging(videos/pics) and Text E-Sign, one thing is for sure: an all-in-one Legal Practice Management and Intake Software solution will help you manage your law firm from intake to settlement.

In order to be on board with the continuing changes, it would benefit law firms to get serious about finding a  good legal CRM and content management from a leading legal case management software provider like Law Ruler. With legal CRM, your law office can engage with clients faster, close more deals and provide better service. Many firms currently have outdated legal case management software systems that cannot withstand the challenges of today’s legal challenges in the face of an enduring pandemic.  Some law offices are still relying on old systems designed before the advent of legal CRM software and do not have what is needed to get ahead of other firms and prepare clients for the new age of video court. A good legal CRM should provide contact management and sync with the office calendar and email while allowing for tagging of each intake or case to make them easy to retrieve at a later date. Finally, a good legal CRM should be mobile- friendly so data can be accessed from anywhere. All in all, videoconferencing seems to be the way the courts will proceed in the foreseeable future and while there are some tech kinks being worked out, it will most likely become a more streamlined and effective system going forward.

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