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JAMS ADR Insights

Virtual & Remote ADR Mediation Arbitration Business Interruption

Embracing Technology and Keeping an Open Mind: Utilizing Telephonic, Videoconference, Skype, Facetime and Zoom Conferencing Platforms

Hon. Sheila Prell Sonenshine (Ret.) on the impact of COVID-19 on the legal profession

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will endure long after this crisis has ended.  Its impact will alter the way the world does business and the legal profession will be front and center in this transformation.   

Last month, I was part of an email dialogue among senior lawyers bemoaning the constraints of stay at home orders and closed courthouses.  Many grumbled about converting their litigation practices from “in person” to remote.  They worried about navigating the technology.  But mostly they were concerned about preserving their clients’ rights and being effective trial lawyers on a little screen instead of in a big hearing room.  In short, they relied on past parameters while envisioning the future.   

With stay at home orders now beginning to lift around the country, many of us recognize that getting back to normal is not something that will happen overnight. From my perspective we of course, must recognize present impediments and accept some of these obstacles will be with us for a long while.  But at the same time and most importantly, we should view these issues in light of positive possibilities.  The enduring, significant and profound lesson of the pandemic for the legal community is not the problems it causes us but the opportunities it presents to embrace technology now.

I realize this will not be easy.  All of us cling to that which we are familiar and comfortable. People look upon any major change with suspicion because they are unsure it will work, or that they can make it work.  However, look how we adapted in the last 50 years.  We witnessed the demise of carbon paper copies, manual typewriters, law libraries filled with hard cover books, massive file cabinets, manual typewriters, and white out! 

The legal profession resisted each of these changes because we could not conceive of digitized calendars, online research or typing our own documents.  But we did it!  We became comfortable with the new.   We still researched, kept calendars, and filed multi page briefs.  And, technology has permitted us to do all of this in less time while achieving better results. 

We can do this again. This is particularly true now because change has become inevitable. In short, we have no choice.  And it is not like we are starting from scratch; none of the changes we face are entirely new. Depositions, arbitrations, and mediations have been conducted virtually for years. Telephonic, videoconference, Skype, Facetime and Zoom conferencing have become accepted ways of doing business.  We therefore have sufficient experience with virtual law to appreciate it is efficient, effective, and economical.   

Our goals remain the same.  To accomplish our goal of providing the best possible legal services to our clients we need not alter what we do—we only must change the ways we do it.

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