It has now been nearly two full years since COVID-19 changed the world. All of us (most all of us anyway) have adapted and learned how to go out in public in a mask, how to socially distance, and how to stay home if we have any Covid-like symptoms. Hopefully these changes are temporary. But not all change is bad. Students and professionals alike learned how to show up to meetings via Zoom—we all remember the viral examples of those who learned more slowly than others and found themselves circling the internet.
Many of these changes may never go back to “normal.” As I wrote this post, I was watching a trial on Zoom. My partner, Scott Staples, was completing a jury trial that included aspects of presentation that were much different than how things would have had to have been handled before the COVID-19 pandemic. Many more traditional attorneys and law firms have been slow to embrace and welcome the changes as they struggle to keep up with the advances in technology. Others, like us at Schauermann Thayer, have been fortunate enough to be able to incorporate the changes into the practice and continue to provide excellent representation for our clients.
Zoom and other online or virtual platforms which allow people to “appear” remotely without actually going to court increase access to justice for all of us. For example, imagine a single parent of a small child who's been ordered by the court to appear and testify but either cannot find, or cannot afford, someone to watch the child. Allowing this witness (or party) to appear via Zoom may not be ideal, but it does make participation in the judicial process more feasible. Similarly, imagine an injured car crash victim whose family lives in another state and who thus can only support the injured person's claim if allowed to testify via Zoom, without having to pay the cost of airfare or deal with flight delays or cancelations. Stated simply, litigation is expensive, and Zoom and other remote appearance technology make it cheaper for individuals to present their case in court. This is especially important as often parties, such as many of our clients, are often litigating against insurance companies or other deep-pocketed defendants.
Speaking of deep-pocketed defendants, the new virtual appearance rules provided by Zoom and other companies level the cost of litigation not only from the sense of allowing witnesses and parties to appear outside of court, but also allowing the parties' attorneys to appear remotely as well. Zoom permits attorneys to appear all over the country—or indeed the world—for court proceedings or other events without having to fly to different states. For example, four or five years ago my client spent thousands of dollars to fly me all over the United States (Texas, Wyoming, and Oregon) to take the depositions of defense experts in his case. Today, if I were handling that case again, I could simply appear for those depositions without having to fly. This change offers savings of both time and money, where in most instances actual in-person attendance is not necessary any longer under the new court procedures that have been implemented because of the pandemic. This saves thousands of dollars in hourly attorney fees and flight expenses that smaller businesses and individuals just can't always afford as part of a “litigation budget”.
COVID-19 has been horrible for our country and for the world. It's caused so much pain, loss, and political strife. But if there is a silver lining, it is Zoom. I hope Zoom stays. It's an equalizer for justice in America.