December 13, 2022
Courts and law firms around the United States had to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic in more ways than one. The difficulty of social distancing, mask mandates, and emergency orders especially took a toll on litigators and their clients. Given these difficulties, a wide array of legal proceedings such as depositions, mediations, and hearings moved to virtual platforms like Zoom and WebEx. Now that the dust has settled, for the time being, one thing has become apparent; Zoom and remote legal proceedings are here to stay.
A company offering remote deposition services conducted a survey of 200 lawyers from across the country in March 2021. The findings revealed that just 17 percent of them said they expected to never or rarely participate in remote proceedings post-pandemic. Additionally, 32 percent thought a quarter to a half of their depositions would involve remote participation by some or all the attendees.
WHEN USED EFFECTIVELY, ZOOM CAN SAVE YOU TIME AND MONEY
Whether you are a lawyer or a client, Zoom can save you time and money—specifically by way of limiting unnecessary travel or “downtime” costs. In a study that addressed the cost-saving functions of remote legal proceedings, several lawyers differentiated between which depositions and hearings would be held remote and which would revert back to in-person.
For depositions, a majority of lawyers agreed that non-crucial witnesses and expert witnesses could effectively be done via Zoom while simultaneously saving travel costs—especially for those witnesses who live out of state. For hearings, one advantage of witnesses appearing remotely, especially expert witnesses, is the reduction of problems with witness availability.
Similarly, using Zoom for mediation can save time and money. For insurance companies, adjusters are more than likely required to attend mediation. Being able to attend remotely allows adjusters to save travel costs, while simultaneously working in their office while the mediator is talking to opposing counsel. This especially applies in routine personal injury cases where a mediator is spending more time with Plaintiffs than Defendants. One lawyer wrote that he was able to “sit at his computer and work on other matters during the time the mediator was with the plaintiff side.” Additionally, lawyers now have the option to use mediators from other states—something that may not have been feasible due to excessive travel costs.
As for clients, many can attend hearings or depositions from the comfort of their own homes or offices and avoid traveling to court, parking, and waiting in security lines while also avoiding those same costs for their lawyers to attend.
UNDERSTANDING PITFALLS IS IMPORTANT
With any change, come pitfalls. However, understanding these pitfalls is necessary to effectively litigate using Zoom. Once you are aware of them, you will be able to plan to guard against them. Some examples are:
- Technology issues
- Witnesses being fed information while testifying or using personal notes
- Ineffective witness preparation
- Losing a jury’s attention
Finally, those paying the costs of litigation may see remote tools as a way of significantly reducing costs and request that, when possible, the lawyer use a remote method rather than in person. Though you can effectively use Zoom for litigation, lawyers should have the autonomy to decide what is most effective for them. Limiting the lawyer to remote methods, as stated before, can have potentially devastating effects in key-witness depositions, client deposition preparation, and in trial. That is a danger that does not outweigh additional costs.
INSIGHTS FOR GF CLIENTS
Gjording Fouser lawyers are constantly adapting to the “new” virtual environment in litigation. That’s why we have equipped our office with commercial grade acoustic fencing to provide optimal privacy in our conference rooms. We have the technology to effectively litigate via Zoom and in the courtroom and are constantly searching for other ways to be even more effective.
For a robust discussion on the use of virtual technology in litigation, See Herbert M. Kritzer, COVID-19 and the Multiple Worlds of Litigation, 71 DePaul L. Rev. 393 (2022).
Please contact a Gjording Fouser lawyer at 208.336.9777 if you would like any additional information about this topic or any other issues facing your company.