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An Appeal to Common Sense: Why Pretrial Court Conferences Should Remain Virtual

If there is one lesson from the pandemic, it is that the courts should not return to the highly inefficient procedures that require lawyers to appear in-person for pretrial court conferences. In-person pretrial court conferences are an enormous waste of time and money for the judicial system as well as lawyers, their clients and defendants’ insurers.

There are 3 simple reasons why pretrial court appearances should be done remotely.  

Reason #1:  Eliminates the Time & Expense of Travel

In-person pretrial court appearances waste precious time and money for lawyers. A lawyer traveling from Albany, NY to Syracuse, NY for an in-person court conference will spend 5 hours driving roundtrip for a routine pretrial conference—this is an enormous waste of time.  

Lawyers often waste hours traveling for routine court appearances that often last less than 10 minutes. And during the winter months, there is the risk of motor vehicle wrecks and personal injury to lawyers posed by driving in inclement weather.  

With remote court appearances, lawyers do not need to travel to court, or face obstacles with parking and security lines.  Instead, the lawyers’ time can be spent preparing for the remote court conference and for most, they will have access to their case file from the comfort of their office or home.

Reason #2:  Convenience for Lawyers, Insurance Carriers and Litigants

Convenience for Lawyers: With remote court appearances, the lawyer’s time is spent doing productive work for their clients, rather than traveling to the courthouse. This allows lawyers to focus on productive work for their clients and minimizes the risks of injury arising from travel and the unnecessary travel expenses, e.g., gas, toll fees and for distant travel, hotel accommodations.

Cost Savings for Defendants & Insurers: Defendants, and their insurers, can avoid the costs and legal fees for their lawyers to attend in-person court conferences.

Convenience for Clients: When a client’s personal appearance is required, clients can appear at pretrial court conferences remotely. Not only is this easier and safer for clients, it also avoids unnecessary travel and saves money for travel expenses, especially for those who do not live in close proximity to the courthouse.

Reason #3:  Efficiency for the Court System

Judicial Convenience:  When a Judge is unable to travel to court (due to weather or personal commitments), they can conduct remote court conferences from home or anywhere they wish. Remote pretrial court conferences are easier for the Judge and their staff.  Even pretrial settlement conferences can be conducted just as effectively remotely as in person.

Convenience of Court Personnel: With remote court appearances, court officers do not have to find the lawyers needed for the conference or confirm that the lawyers and their clients are present. Remote court conferences ease this burden on the court officers and in so doing, save judicial resources.

Ease of Making a Record: Remote court appearances can be recorded via video and transcription at a nominal expense (via Microsoft Teams). With automatic transcription of remote court conferences, Judges and their staff will have an instant record of what was said and done.  Such a record will make it easier for the Judge to keep track of agreements and deadlines for future court conferences.

An Appeal to Common Sense

What can you accomplish in-person at a pretrial court appearance that you can’t do remotely?  Nothing.  In-person pretrial court conferences make no sense.

If the courts return to the old way of in-person court conferences, we will have wasted the most valuable lesson learned from the pandemic, namely, that remote court conferences are efficient and effective and are a valuable tool for lawyers, litigants and judges.  This is why in-person pretrial court conferences should be eliminated with rare exception.  

It would be a shame if we go back to the old way of doing things. Judges, lawyers, and their clients deserve better. 

Photo by Sora Shimazaki

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