Let’s Not Return to the Old “Normal”

It is safe to say that virtual coffees and cocktails are inadequate substitutes for the real thing, and we cannot wait to resume in-person meetings. But serving clients remotely throughout the pandemic has challenged us to adopt new tools and approaches, some of which have improved the process of serving our clients. When we retire our covid couture (aka sweatpants), let’s not lose sight of the lessons learned over the last year.

Here are some of the changes we hope to make permanent:

Virtual Meetings

Conducting necessary meetings remotely allows businesses to spend less time and money on travel. No more two-day trips just for an hour-long meeting. While that may translate into fewer rounds of golf with expert witnesses in sun-drenched states, it allows us to use our time more efficiently so that our clients get better value. Virtual meetings allow us to solve problems in real time, face to face, a vast improvement over back-and-forth emails or instant messaging. Going forward, Goodman Law Group will not allow our screen-sharing skills to get rusty and plan to continue meeting virtually with clients and colleagues. Of course, we will also welcome the opportunity for in-person meetings. But videoconferencing will remain a staple because face-to-face interactions lead to better collaboration.

More Effective Depositions

Remote depositions save clients an enormous amount of money, and for that reason alone we need to make them a permanent aspect of the process. But the benefits of conducting depositions virtually go well beyond eliminating the cost of travel. We at Goodman Law Group have found that video depositions yield a better end result. First, all participants seem to be on their best behavior. For instance, it is much harder for an attorney to send his client a signal by kicking him under the table — legend has it this happened quite frequently in the “Before Times.” Additionally, working through a screen seems to turn down the emotional temperature in the “room.” Anyone who has experience taking in-person depositions knows that there are tense moments, and a temperamental witness or heated exchange can raise the stress level for everyone. But being in separate places, and recognizing that the video and sound are being recorded, can help participants stay on task and follow the rules.

Zoom Hearings — Though That Is a Mixed Bag

If one needs evidence about the “deliberate” pace with which our courts welcomed change pre-pandemic, as recently as March 2020, some of our courts (Cook County, Illinois — the largest unitized court system in the country) still used carbon paper to replicate hand-drafted orders. Needless to say, these courtrooms were not equipped with cameras.

But the pandemic changed that by forcing courts to rely on Zoom for hearings (except our federal courts that have conducted telephonic hearings). Zoom is a far better tool than audio-only phone conferences, which leave us in the dark on the body language, facial expressions, and gestures that make up important aspects of communication. On Zoom, everyone’s digital square is the same size, and though the power differential is still a factor, it’s easier to feel that we are all just people. Perhaps most importantly, on Zoom people don’t talk over each other.

On the other hand, since the pandemic began courts have scheduled far fewer hearings. This obviously hinders the dispute resolution process. Clients are experiencing unprecedented delays in the court system, and the lack of progress on cases has eroded their trust in the process and harmed their businesses. Clients deserve expedient access to the justice system so they can resolve legal troubles and move forward. So while we welcome the innovation of remote hearings, we would be much happier to see them happening in a timely manner.

Overall, the process of litigating business disputes remotely has gone relatively smoothly. I had the good fortune to participate in a trial of a complex commercial dispute through Zoom that was both smooth and efficient — at least as far as trials go.

The legal industry is coming to terms with the reality that we probably aren’t going back to the old system. And I think that’s a good thing. The technological resources available create an opportunity to make our system more efficient and accessible, and help our clients resolve disputes favorably and more cost-effectively.

What do you think? What lessons have you learned over the past year? What changes do you hope to keep after the return to “normal”?

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn on May 11, 2021