The coronavirus pandemic has changed many aspects of our everyday lives, from schooling to entertainment to work.
Likewise, COVID-19 has forced lawyers and our court systems to change how they do business and the way in which law is practiced in the United States.
We now all know what “the CDC” is and how that government agency has guided us with recommendations for quarantine, sheltering-in-place, and social distancing. This has significantly impacted the legal industry, one that’s known for being slow to change. Remember, the U.S. legal system is largely based on the common law legal tradition of English law that was in force at the time of the American Revolutionary War.
But the practice of law has evolved, and with the current pandemic, attorneys and the courts have moved uncharacteristically fast to remote working and use of technology to keep the wheels of justice moving, albeit at a slower pace than normal.
Let’s look at how the pandemic has changed how the key stages of a case have changed.
“eDiscovery” or electronic discovery has been around for several decades. This is a way to electronically identify, gather, and produce electronically stored information (ESI) in response to a request for production in a lawsuit, one of the first major stages. ESI can be things like emails, documents, presentations, databases, voicemail, audio and video files, social media, and websites.
Law firms stepped up their use of eDiscovery in the pandemic. Once only used in very complex litigation, even smaller law firms have now adopted its use.
In addition, cases are increasingly initiated by electronic service of documents instead of paper.
COVID-19 made litigation more difficult and more remote. After first placing holds on much of the non-essential or non-emergency proceedings, trial courts such as those in Michigan authorized the implementation of emergency measures to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus and provide the greatest protection possible to those who work or have business in the courts. The Michigan Supreme Court encouraged trial courts to maximize the use of technology to enable and/or require parties to participate remotely.
A deposition is the questioning of a witness under oath about the case. This allows both sides to discover what the witness knows. It also preserves the witness’ testimony. Depositions are designed to allow the parties to learn all the facts before the trial—that way there are no surprises when the witness takes the stand.
In the past, video depositions in Michigan were rare. An in-person deposition might be recorded, but the deponent was in attendance; with COVID, litigators made use of the technology to conduct depositions via video-conferencing with a variety of communication programs, such as Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime.
The pandemic prompted courts to expand their use of e-filing, e-service, and online dispute software. In fact, this motivated the courts in Michigan to work to more quickly to expand a statewide online dispute resolution service for some civil disputes, according to Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack. The Chief Justice sees courts across the country pursuing technological innovations after the pandemic has ended.
For example, video-conferencing is also being used by the courts to conduct hearings, allowing parties and their attorneys to appear remotely, which also reduced costs and time. By June 2020, at least 40 state supreme courts canceled in-person arguments and instead held remote hearings via Zoom. Plus, several U.S. Courts of Appeals sanctioned livestreaming by mid-April of last year, and the U.S. Supreme Court livestreamed oral arguments for the first time in May 2020 with the use of teleconference technology.
Case Evaluations, Settlement Conferences, and Mediations
Case evaluation is a non-binding process where the parties present the facts and the issues to be determined to 3 attorneys, named case evaluators. The case evaluators informs the parties about the strengths and weaknesses of their respective positions, and determines how the dispute is likely to be decided by a jury, judge, or arbitrator. A case evaluation is designed to allow the parties to use this feedback to help them come to a mutually agreeable resolution.
Videoconferencing has also become the norm here, as well as with settlement conferences and mediations. Judges have been conducting settlement conferences telephonically and holding oral arguments electronically.
A settlement conference happens before trial. It’s a short and less formal proceeding overseen by a judge. The hope is that the parties can negotiate a settlement and save the expense and time of a trial. And mediation is a procedure where the parties discuss their disputes with the assistance of a trained impartial third party who helps them in reaching a settlement. This can be an informal meeting among the parties or a scheduled settlement conference.
Michigan Medical Malpractice and Auto Accident Litigation Proceeding with the Use of Technology
Medical malpractice litigation and auto accident cases continue to move forward in the court process with discovery and hearings with the use of technology. However, many cases are stalled because there are no civil jury trials currently being held in West Michigan. This has been the situation since the pandemic began in March 2020.
As a result, most cases aren’t being resolved because there’s no pressure of a trial date.
If you have questions about how technology can help in your medical malpractice or auto accident case, contact an experienced, technologically advanced attorney in Michigan. The Buchanan Firm proudly serves people all across Michigan, including major cities like Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Detroit, Lansing, Holland, St. Joe, and Ann Arbor, and rural towns such as Lowell, Ada, Fremont, Newaygo, Grand Haven, Rockford, and Cedar Springs.
Contact The Buchanan Firm today!