Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the more recent uptick in cases, law firms have had to adapt to these new and unprecedented times. The lockdown has caused many courts and hearings sites to close, and those that do remain partially open, have placed criminal matters as high priority on the docket as these cases are more time sensitive. As a result of this, courts are assigning trial dates for civil matters anywhere from 18 months to two years out.
Even with courts slowly reopening, they are severely understaffed as many employees are still working from home. This results in a delay in processing files, which inevitably leads to delays in proceedings. As people are commuting less to work, as well as the thousands that have been furloughed as a result of the pandemic, it logically flows that there are few accidents at work, fewer automobile accident and as a result of people avoiding public places more now then ever, premise liability matters have also decreased. Some studies have indicated that there has been a 38% decrease in personal injury suits filed in the last 8 months, largely attributable to COVID-19 and people exiting their homes less frequently.
In order to adapt to these strange and difficult times, remote hearings and meetings have become part of the new norm. Although there are convenience benefits for these, especially for commuting purposes, this has resulted in considerable problems, as there are constant technical difficulties. This process also unfairly discriminates against those who are less technologically apt, who would otherwise make as a great witness in person. There is also the issue with witnesses and clients having to give depositions or attend mediations in their homes, which often poses difficulties since their kids may be attending virtual school in the background and affecting their ability to focus and actively participate in the proceeding.
Not only are there issues with the platform of the hearing, but questions still remain as to the susceptibility of these outlets. Clients have the benefit of privilege, as well as the ability to conduct these hearings either in a private, closed courtroom, or in the case of a deposition or mediation, a closed off conference room or something akin. With a video platform, we do not know if these can be hacked or people can eavesdrop and listen in. As a result of this, clients are becoming more vulnerable as we move towards virtual hearings.
Overall, a lot remains unknown as to where we are heading with the legal system as a result of COVID-19. As firms are constantly adapting and scrambling to these changing times, many factors are constantly evaluated in order to avoid contact with others while simultaneously facilitating these matters in the clients best interests.
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