During the COVID-19 pandemic, lawyers, judges, and clients are all trying to find the correct balance between having clients’ cases heard and staying safe. Courts have reduced the number of jury trials and non-jury trial cases they’re trying. Many courts have reduced trials altogether. Even though trials for the most part have not been taking place, cases are still proceeding. Lawyers are conducting depositions and processing cases. Many legal personnel have turned to Zoom and other virtual conferencing applications to conduct meetings, mediations, arbitrations, and other court matters from a distance. There are many pros and cons to virtual court that affect justice and the ability to resolve disputes.
The advantages of going to court via Zoom
- It is easier for everyone to schedule an exact time for a hearing. There is less waiting around for other cases to finish. If a judge needs to reschedule or postpone a hearing, everyone can wait in the comfort of their home.
- There is no need to travel. This saves on travel expenses and time. There is no need to reserve a room in the courthouse or an office. There is also less need to worry about security, parking, lines, and other inconveniences.
- Introducing exhibits. Generally, with teleconferencing, the lawyers need to have all their exhibits prepared (in advance of the hearing/meeting) so they can be sent to the judge for review and to opposing counsel.
Disadvantages of virtual court
- Control issues. It may be more difficult for a judge to control a virtual courtroom than a physical courtroom. Judges can’t see what’s going on behind the scenes of the camera lens.
- While most court sessions are open to the public, cases without a jury usually involve just the judge, the clients, and the lawyers. But when you’re online using a service like Zoom, children, relatives, and anyone with a password can watch. This is especially important when it comes to sequestering witnesses. In a physical court, the judge can order that the witnesses stay outside the courtroom until it’s time to testify. It is harder to enforce the rules when you are conducting court virtually.
- Many personal records including psychological evaluations, medical reports, and other information are introduced in trials and other court hearings. There is a greater risk that this information can be hacked when you’re in a video conference.
There may also be issues involving the privacy and security of medical records due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
The effects of virtual court on witness credibility
One unexpected effect of video court is witness credibility. It is hard to explain how important it is to see a witness in person and to watch how that witness reacts under questioning. A classic way of observing the credibility of a witness is to watch their hands. In a physical court, the judge can see the hands. In a virtual court, the judge can’t see a witness’s hands. Little things like this can make it harder to determine if a witness is credible.
There is also a real risk of witness tampering. In a virtual courtroom setting, it can be hard to tell if a witness is being coached through text messages or some other dishonest method.
Due to COVID-19, the legal community is using teleconferences and remote hearings through programs like Zoom so that personal injury cases can proceed to a settlement or trial. At Bailey & Greer, PLLC, we are working to process your claims through the court system. We are also keeping current with best practices for virtual hearings, negotiations, depositions, client meetings, and all other applicable court functions. Please call our Memphis and Jackson lawyers at 901-475-7434 or use our contact form to schedule a free consultation.
As founder of Bailey & Greer, R. Sadler Bailey has battled his fair share of insurance giants and wrongdoers and has achieved numerous multimillion-dollar results for the victims of catastrophic injuries and their families. What’s more, he has been involved in more than 40 appellate court decisions affecting Tennessee personal injury law, including many landmark appearances before the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Read more about R. Sadler Bailey