Online Court Hearings: Some Quick Observations From this Year

George Benaur, Benaur Law LLC

This year has indeed shocked the legal industry in many ways, along with the rest of the world. Many courthouses across the country closed their doors to visitors. Jury trials have suspended in many jurisdictions, or have been delayed. There have been moratoriums on filings and other remarkable events.

It has certainly been an instructive year in which to practice law, let alone run a law firm. One of the most interesting experiences this year, in terms of my practice, has been to conduct many court hearings on Zoom. I have to say that I have found them to be very effective. Some of the advantages include:

  • Efficiency – the hearings usually start on time
  • No commute and hence client savings – huge matter, no need to travel to other jurisdictions, which saves a ton of time and money, especially in international cases
  • Focus – for both the court and the attorneys; you get right into the case (unless you have to wait around listening to the other cases on the docket, which online is much less interesting than in the courtroom)
  • Flexibility – can be held at any time convenient for the court and parties
  • Presentation – presenting documents and exhibits is actually very effective, because you can share your screen with the judge and control the process.

But there are also disadvantages. The main disadvantage is that online hearings take away from the “in person” feel that one gets in a court room. The live aspect of the court room – the performance aspect of it – is definitely diminished in online hearings. The other disadvantage is it is more difficult to gauge the credibility of the witnesses online for both the judges and the other attorneys. Conducting cross examinations, especially where the witness requires a translator, is also more difficult online.

Whether it is possible to effectively hold trials, let alone jury trials, in an online setting as part of normal legal industry practice remains to be seen. Some courts have already experimented with it. If such trials gain popularity and acceptance, then the online legal technology could serve as the future for the legal industry, but if it does, it will also change not only the legal industry, but quite likely, the justice system itself.

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