When the threat of COVID-19 initially hit the United States, trial attorneys knew that it likely meant court closures as well as cancellations of depositions and mediations. But, what many of us did not anticipate is how seamlessly our trial practice would transition to a remote, video practice via a virtual meeting platform.
The first week of the “stay at home” Order in Houston, I had a hearing scheduled on an application for a temporary restraining order. I assumed the hearing would be cancelled. Instead, the Court notified all attorneys that although the hearing would not go forward in person, it would go forward via video. The Court sent a link for all attorneys to join via Zoom at the scheduled time. Having never used Zoom before, I was nervous about the added element on such short notice. But, that morning, I clicked a link and was joined to a remote courtroom where the hearing proceeded as normal. Since that hearing, I’ve had six more Zoom hearings that were all efficient and more cost effective to my clients because rather than travel to the courthouse, wait for docket call, and wait for several other hearings to conclude before my hearing, I simply clicked a link a few minutes before my designated time. In the future, courts may be more inclined to allow attorneys to appear via video—especially if an attorney would otherwise have to travel from out of town for a 20-minute hearing.
In addition to hearings, parties have also been conducting depositions remotely. At first, many attorneys were hesitant to agree to video depositions but, as the cases of COVID-19 increased, it became clear that unless depositions went forward via video they may not go forward for months. Conducting my first video deposition was easier than I thought. Zoom,Webex and other virtual meeting platforms have a share document feature that makes sharing exhibits simple. And, during breaks when I needed to talk to my client, I simply muted my microphone, turned off my video, and called my client. Going forward, traveling across the country for a non-essential witness deposition may be a thing of the past. A video deposition gets the job done and saves the client from paying for airfare and hotel costs. Now, some depositions, no matter where they are, will go forward in person—such as plaintiff or defendant depositions, or key witness depositions—but, I predict that video depositions are here to stay.
I’ve participated in one remote, video mediation and again, it was shockingly seamless. Because Zoom allows for the host to place parties in different “virtual rooms,” mediation is conducted in the same manner as it is in person. We started with an opening session and then the mediator moved us all to our designated virtual rooms. When the mediator was ready to meet with us, I would get a notification that the mediator was joining our room. We discussed the case and potential settlement ranges and then the mediator left our room and went to the next virtual room. I will gladly do another virtual mediation if it means avoiding travel in the near future.
While COVID-19 has been scary and presented many challenges—like working from home with young children running around—it has benefited litigation by forcing us to get creative and utilize remote, video proceedings. These remote video proceedings are here to stay; and, arguably have enhanced the practice of law by making us all more efficient.