The legal sector is deeply affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Virtually every legal specialty is affected, from family law to criminal law and real estate law. Commercial law practitioners are also affected, as commercial transactions are reduced and corporate clients try to reduce costs during the economic downturn.
Companies providing legal support services in Miami are trying to handle the negative effects of the pandemic, implementing new measures and protocols. But what are the factors behind this ongoing problem? How can law firms and trusted court reporters in Miami handle their workload during this period? Let’s take a closer look:
The effects of the coronavirus pandemic
The ongoing pandemic has disrupted virtually every routine commercial litigation service, including trials, hearings, and depositions. Virtually all commercial law firms providing legal support services in Miami are affected by these disruptions. Deadlines are delayed, courts are closed and the whole legal process is slowed down. In this situation, many litigants are trying to seek a blanket stay of discovery, motion practice, or other related activities. These ideas are not ideal, especially when taking into consideration that courts avoid suspending cases entirely. In some cases, local courts have decided to delay deadlines, but others have not and want to use the same deadlines as before. There is a lot of uncertainty in this sector, and both clients and attorneys don’t have a clear pathway for their cases during this period. For instance, courts, clients, and attorneys have to decide which cases should be prioritized, which can be delayed and which can be suspended indefinitely.
This is probably the first thing to check if you are part of a commercial trial. Try to determine whether the court system, the individual court, or the judge has issued an order that extends or modifies existing deadlines. Also, check for court suspensions or other court restrictions that may apply in your case. Keep in mind that many courts, both at the state and federal level, have issued general administrative orders detailing how their activity will be handled during this period. However, the orders and the measures implemented are varied, so make sure you check beforehand. For instance, courts located in New York have suspended all filings in non-essential matters. The essential is narrowly defined, but activity is greatly reduced. Other courts are allowing filings, but don’t allow in-person courtroom access to anyone. Certain deadlines have been extended. Make sure to always monitor new orders and their provisions.
Litigating from home
Firms offering legal support services in Miami should consider working from home, especially if this type of work is possible. Although many people working from home have reduced productivity, caused by distractions and technological challenges, working on important cases is critical for some companies. This is because some courts will not offer universal deadline extensions. This means that cases will move forward even during these difficult moments. Litigants should be prepared to work from home efficiently – but how? Here’s a short breakdown:
- document collections and productions – because of the restrictions, collecting physical documents is almost impossible; however, digital documents can still be collected, reviewed and reproduced; unfortunately, this activity has to be done by employees working from home who may encounter technological difficulties; what’s more, their time is limited, so this procedure will take longer than average; IT support may be needed in certain situations, specifically if the digital files have errors;
- depositions – obviously, depositions are ideally conducted in person; however, according to trusted court reporters in Miami, depositions must be conducted remotely because of the restrictions; luckily, court reporting companies already provide this type of service, via telephone or video conferencing; there are limitations – for instance, lawyers may find it difficult to ask questions and interact directly with the witness; also, the defending lawyer will often find it difficult to interject timely objections; handling exhibits is another problem, especially if their voluminous and difficult to handle; video depositions come with another challenge – the witness has to have a computer with good video capabilities in order to support the court reporter’s software (trusted court reporters in Miami use specialized software in order to complete the deposition); this problem is difficult to resolve, especially during this period;
- motion practice – many legal documents can be drafted at home and filed electronically, but declarations and affidavits are different; for instance, many states require original ink signatures on these documents, which are considered sworn statements; on the other hand, other states have changed their rules during this period and no longer require ink signatures on documents; obviously, all commercial litigants should pay attention to the changes in this area;
- hearings and trials – in some circumstances, hearings and trials can be conducted via telephone or video; however, whether a case can go forward remotely is determined by many factors, such as the number of witnesses, defendants or whether a jury is present or not; the stay-at-home restrictions may also change the type of evidence that is admissible in court; for instance, video depositions and transcripts are affected by the restrictions; in federal courts, the testimony of a witness is not considered valid if the witness is not physically present, but some restrictions apply; in many cases, the mere fact that a witness cannot travel is not enough to make him unavailable;
Obtaining and opposing stays
Many litigants are trying to seek a blanket or open-ended stay of discovery in order to stop the legal proceedings during this period. In this case, jury trials may be stayed indefinitely, but litigants should not assume that commercial cases must be stayed. Some several courts have cited the coronavirus-related disruptions as a good reason to stay discovery or extend certain deadlines, but other federal courts stated that the pandemic is not a sufficient reason to stay all discovery indefinitely.
Alternative dispute resolution
Litigants are advised to seek mediation or arbitration as an alternative if it is feasible. This can be a great option for many clients who don’t want to lose time during this period. Unfortunately, rescheduling caused by the pandemic is affecting the arbitration and mediation procedures as well. There’s another advantage – both arbitration and mediation are often less formal than litigation, and it takes less time.