During the past four months of living through COVID-19 and adjusting to social distancing changes in our lifestyle and litigation practices, we have been compelled to rethink how and where we practice law. Opportunities have emerged in our litigation practices that benefit our clients, and hopefully, such improvements will remain in place going forward, long after this pandemic ends.
- Court Appearances: As Tiffany Bentley’s recent blog discussed, the Probate and Family Court started conducting evidentiary hearings and trials in person, and all other hearings remain virtual. While virtual hearings have some drawbacks, overall they have been efficient and cost-effective for our clients. Virtual hearings eliminate the need to travel to a courthouse and to wait hours in the courtroom for your case to be heard, thereby saving hours of attorney’s time and reducing legal fees incurred. Where most of our cases involve numerous family members or interested parties, each of whom is represented by a different attorney, the savings are multiplied. In addition, virtual hearings have allowed us to appear in multiple courthouses in different parts of the state on the same day, something that would have been previously impossible. Courthouses have improved their Zoom and conference call capabilities during this pandemic, so hopefully going forward the bench and bar will continue to utilize these types of technology for administrative-type conferences, as well as some motion hearings, which can be accomplished as effectively virtually as in person.
- E-filing and E-Serving: With certain exceptions and nuanced local practices, our courts have accepted pleadings by e-filing. There have been improvements to the e-filing system, and some Registries have accepted e-filing by email. Judges and court personnel have referred to electronic pleadings, so it seems that the courts are using the electronic copies of pleadings, rather than printing them. In addition, the Supreme Judicial Court issued an Order allowing service on other parties by email in lieu of U.S. mail. Both e-filing and e-serving are improvements that have enabled us to work from home more efficiently and to move cases along in the courthouse. E-filing and e-serving significantly reduce the amount of paper generated in litigation, which typically bulks up files in the courthouse and sits in piles in our offices.
- Case Strategy: During this pandemic, we have better quality time to think about each case. The time spent commuting to the office and traveling for court appearances is now spent practicing law. The backlog created by the courthouse has provided an opportunity to examine each case, analyze next steps, draft important dispositive motions, and determine whether to push the case ahead aggressively or try to resolve it depending on the client’s needs. We have also looked at the need for certain depositions and whether or not to conduct them virtually or reschedule them until it is safe to conduct in person. The pandemic has created an opportunity for us to adapt to video conferencing depositions. This practice saves travel time, thereby reducing legal fees and benefiting our clients. This practice could continue in the future, especially for third-party witnesses where a face-to-face deposition might be less important.
I look forward to seeing more opportunities arise during this pandemic, and I welcome your comments and feedback on opportunities you have noticed. Stay healthy.