On March 14, 2020 Chief Justice Harold D. Melton signed a judicial emergency order suspending all non-essential court functions due to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19 pandemic. This order was recently extended through July 12, although judges are allowed to use their discretion on how to proceed when it comes to resuming in-person operations. This judicial emergency order has not stopped courts and law firms from successfully conducting their operations remotely, which could lead to permanent changes in our legal system. Our law office is no exception to this rule. Contact the Don Turner Legal Team today and see what kind of virtual accommodations we can offer our clients.
Attending Court from Your Living Room
Although businesses in Georgia are gradually opening back up, many Americans remain concerned about possible exposure to COVID-19. But while you have the option of getting your hair cut at home or ordering takeout instead of going to a restaurant, attending court is an entirely different story. You must show up for your court hearing or face consequences. At the same time, social distancing remains a concern for clients and court staff alike. So, how do you make sure the justice system proceeds smoothly while continuing to adhere to social distancing measures?
Luckily, technology is here to help. COVID-19 has already shown us that many things we thought were only possible in person can be accomplished with technology. Companies that were once resistant to the concept of working from home are fast-tracking advancements that make it easier than ever to maintain a virtual workspace from the comfort of your home office. There are multiple benefits to telework: it reduces your carbon footprint, is more cost-effective for employees, and can be more efficient in the long run. And it may be here to stay, even after the pandemic ends.
Courts are no exception when it comes to embracing technology to conduct their operations. Multiple courts across Georgia have been able to hold jail proceedings along with other essential hearings through the use of videoconferencing software, allowing court operations to keep proceeding smoothly even as court staff and clients alike continue to practice social distancing. Other states have already been able to hold select non-essential hearings online to similar success.
While the United State legal system has traditionally operated on an in-person basis, this may change permanently due to COVID-19. It is true that not every court hearing should be held virtually. Judges recognize that specific court proceedings, such as certain criminal jury trials need to be held in-person. At the same time, virtual hearings have been recognized as a cost-effective and efficient alternative way to hold court proceedings, and some judges feel like they may never go back, now that they know that a number of court hearings can be accomplished virtually.
Eventually, the coronavirus crisis will come to a close, but its effects on the court system will remain. We can expect to see electronic discovery, e-filing, and virtual appearances (both by court staff and clients) become more of the norm, even after COVID-19 fades into memory. Not every hearing can be conducted virtually, but it may soon become commonplace for clients to attend hearings from their living room via video conference without needing to step foot into the courtroom.
The Impact of COVID-19 On Law Firms
Many attorneys throughout Georgia have also taken their business online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many law firm employees are working remotely. Fortunately, technology has made it easier than ever for law firms to serve their clients remotely. Videoconferencing software like Zoom makes it possible to meet with your attorney from the comfort of your home. Software such as DocuSign allows legal documents to be signed electronically. And as of April 2020, documents can be witnessed and notarized remotely through the use of videoconferencing.
Many in the legal field believe we will also see a long-term change in how attorneys do business. Law firms are expected to become more technologically savvy, with solutions like remote notarization and document-signing, along with electronic filing and discovery becoming the standard. The rise of the virtual workplace has law firms considering more flexibility in their operations in the long-term. It may also bring on new and engaging ways for legal staff to engage with their clients and each other.
Eventually, the coronavirus crisis will come to an end. But although many Americans speak hopefully of going “back to normal”, some things will never be the same. The COVID-19 pandemic will lead to a “new normal” for many aspects of American life, and this includes how the United States legal system operates. The coronavirus crisis has led Georgia’s courts and law firms alike to embrace advances in technology, and it could change how America’s justice system operates forever.