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May 28, 2021 Practice Points

Transitioning Back to the Courtroom: “Trials” and Tribulations

As the world slowly transitions back to normalcy, COVID-19 will never be forgotten, and neither will the perseverance shown within the legal profession.

By Stephanie Richards

Over the past year and a half, the legal field’s idea of “normalcy” has been redefined. At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, attorneys found trial dates pushed back and hearings re-scheduled. Amidst the pandemic, backlog became a problem, forcing those within the practice to get creative. Both state and federal practitioners and judges found themselves sitting in front of computer screens with webcams and utilizing teleconference services for hearings. The legal system has experienced great disruption; however, among the chaos, creativity has prevailed.

As vaccinations have been administered and mask mandates begin to lift, an end is certainly in sight. Many will begin to reflect on what changes the last 15 months has wrought on the legal community as a whole.

The two things practitioners will most likely not miss from life during the pandemic:

  1. “You’re on mute.” “Technology is great,” they said. Who is they you ask? They are those who do not work in the legal field. It may not come as a surprise, but attorneys do not learn much about the latest and greatest legal technology in law school. While many are well-versed in research software like Bloomberg, Westlaw, and LexisNexis, none of those platforms have videoconferencing components. Attorneys were thrown into the world of videoconferencing and forced to add “software test” to their already rigorous trial preparation procedures. Nearly all judges, attorneys, and clients would agree that they will not miss the days of interruptions due to technological issues.
  2. Delay. Most attorneys have become all too familiar with the postponement of hearings. Far too many cases have gone “stale” awaiting trial during the last year and a half, making preparation for hearings or trial far more difficult to anticipate. Many will not miss having to call clients to inform them, on the eve of trial, that their court date has been pushed, yet again.

The top two pieces of reality practitioners simply are not ready for:

  1.  The commute. While this may not be true for those attorneys working in urban America with firms just blocks from the courthouse steps, many small firms or solo practitioners in rural areas represent clients all over their respective jurisdictions. Many jurisdictions do not traditionally allow telephonic hearings, forcing attorneys to travel hours to represent their clients in hearings or trials. Many attorneys, including this author, will miss the days when the “commute” for that pre-trial conference was the short walk from their bedroom to the home-office.
  2. Pants. Amidst the bustling crowds, attorneys were historically easily identifiable with their three-piece suits and over-packed briefcases. However, in 2020, let’s just say things became far more casual. Whether you were working from home drafting pleadings in your jammies or appearing for a Zoom hearing in your running shorts with a button down top and suit coat, no one missed wearing pants. The transition back to wearing bottoms with buttons and zippers may be a rough one.

As the world slowly transitions back to normalcy, COVID-19 will never be forgotten, and neither will the perseverance shown within the legal profession. 

Stephanie Richards is an attorney at Goosmann Law Firm in Omaha, Nebraska. 

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