Trials in the Age of COVID

Social distancing requirements across the country have put the court system on overdrive to figure out how to turn standard court proceedings into a pandemic-friendly format. It has required, not surprisingly, a lot of work, a lot of creativity and a lot of flexibility.

Although courts had ground to a halt in April of 2020, since that time, legal professionals across the United States have used technology, creativity, and the law to come up with ways of remotely conducting arraignments, bench trials, jury selection, and other legal proceedings. According to a New York Times article on June 10, Oregon was the first state to reinstate in-person jury trials, but others soon followed.

So what do trials and other court activities look like right now? Inquiring minds want to know.

Service of process

Throughout the height of the stay-at-home orders, service of process continued with little interruption throughout the country. This is due largely to the fact that personal service is the industry standard for serving summons and subpoenas.

However, service of process did experience some disruptions. These disruptions may well play out throughout the course of the pandemic.

One ongoing issue has been the increased difficulty of locating individuals to serve documents. The pandemic created massive disruptions in people’s lives. It hasn’t been uncommon for people to relocate or take up residence with family or friends in hopes of riding out the pandemic. Moreover, concern about exposure to the virus has made people less inclined to open the door or interact with strangers, even when they’re wearing masks.

Another significant disruption stems from the widespread closure of businesses in April and May. With offices closed throughout the country, serving requests for documents at places like doctor’s offices or serving registered agents at corporate buildings became much harder.

Remote depositions and court appearances

Until COVID-19, remote depositions were possible, but not the standard. It’s a different ball game now. Litigants will have to weigh a variety of factors on whether to postpone depositions or proceed.

Do witnesses have access to and ability to use the necessary technology Do remote legal teams have access to files and notes to prepare How many individuals are participating? Can exhibits be shared effectively? Are witnesses able to proceed?

Note that different courts across the country are operating under different circumstances right now. Some judges may decide that all depositions need to proceed remotely, others may encourage regular legal activities to resume as soon as possible.

Remote court appearances, on the other hand, vary by type of case and judge. Remote jury trials are not taking place, although some counties are testing out the idea. On the other hand, other proceedings are taking place. Some courts have implemented video conferencing for matters like traffic offenses, bail hearings, and first appearances in criminal cases.

Technology used

The legal industry may have been slow to adapt to remote technology, but many are seeing lasting benefits to its adoption over the last several months. These tools don’t just make remote legal processes possible – they save time and money and make important procedures accessible during a difficult time.

The standout technology, by a mile, has been Zoom. (If there’s an article about COVID-19 that doesn’t mention Zoom, does it really exist?)

Zoom has been one of the most powerful, widely applicable tools for video conferencing during the pandemic. While early security issues raised some concerns, they have fallen by the wayside as Zoom has resolved the problems and shown itself to easily adapt across industries. Within the legal world, Zoom has allowed remote trials, depositions, and other court processes to move forward. Although there are other videoconferencing technologies, Zoom has the benefit of being easily accessible to all participants, flexible, and has field-tested.

As the public health situation evolves in the United States, it’s imperative for the legal industry to continue adapting to meet the joint requirements for public health and legal needs. As process servers, we strive to stay current so we can continue the important work of personal service where ever possible. To learn more about DGR’s team of professionals, contact us today.

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