The Future of Virtual Litigation: How Technology is Changing the Legal Industry
If we told you ten years ago that people would experience life-changing legal battles from the comfort of their couches, you’d probably think we’d lost touch with reality. However, in the last couple of years, that has become a common occurrence.
The truth is, technology is evolving in practically every part of our society. It has changed the way we communicate, shop, transport, educate, and even operate our homes. This has happened extremely fast, too.
The legal industry is not immune to this rapid change, either. Every time technology has ramped itself up, it has found its way into the legal industry, and now, the advent of virtual communication has become a staple of litigation, as well.
This isn’t going to stop, and it’s important that anyone who might need to participate in the legal industry, whether it be defending against a lawsuit or as a lawyer guiding clients, knows how modern technology is rapidly changing the industry.
Today, we’ll go over the general history of how tech has advanced the litigation field when the implementation of virtual litigation began, and what it means for our industry and its participants going forward.
The Long History of Technology’s Effect on Litigation: Summary
The latest advancements in litigation and technology aren’t the first major changes the litigation system has dealt with because of humanity’s ongoing technological evolution. In fact, this has gone on for much of the last century.
At first, technological advancements impacted litigation in the form of recording. As faster, more reliable, forms of recording technology such as typewriters became available, documenting the pre-trial and trial processes had a major impact on the possible level of oversight in the litigation field. It was possible to go back and accurately look at cases in hindsight, review arguments more effectively throughout the trial, and provide jurors and other key members of the case with a more accurate word-by-word account of the facts.
Other major changes include the introduction of digital technology in the courtroom to present evidence and arguments. This streamlined and improved the presentation of vital evidence, communication with participants, and more. Consider how many cases have been won by presenting audio or video files to a courtroom when that wouldn’t have been possible 80 or so years ago.
There are many other small technological changes that have had widespread impacts both positive and negative such as live courtroom recording that brought the public at large “into” the courtroom and created a much more involved public.
The effects of technology on the litigation field are vast and many. However, this latest evolution of technology might be something no one would have ever expected.
Virtual Technology is Evolving Court Proceedings
While all the advances we mentioned had dramatic impacts on how the courtroom operates, none of them have done so much as society’s turn to virtual communication.
The advent of virtual communication has turned the entire court experience on its head. In fact, it has taken the court out of designated government buildings and into the homes, coffee shops, and random other dwellings of everyday people.
This might not seem like something that is too concerning or even impactful, but its potential has both positive and negative impacts on the entire litigation field.
When Did Virtual Litigation Begin?
Virtual communication technology has been around for a long time. Programs like Skype were around well over a decade ago, and even back then, seamless virtual communication with live video and audio was possible. So, why is this just now having a major impact on court proceedings?
Well, it mostly kicked off in 2020 when the world began to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
As more and more lockdowns, distancing measures, and other restrictions were put in place, simply going out for a cup of coffee was seen as a major health risk; let alone packing dozens of people into a courtroom to hold a proper legal process in person and with everyone present. There was the risk of spreading infection, and no one wanted to deal with that at the time. So, the court system decided that, instead of having everyone come in person to participate, it would start leveraging virtual technology.
Almost overnight, practically every type of litigation was being conducted over Zoom and other live video chat systems. Parents going through divorces began debating over custody, not in the courtroom, but on their computers, prisoners looking to fight the legal system did so from isolated rooms and computer screens, and lawsuits worth life-changing sums of money were conducted the same way 00s kids talked to their friends late at night.
What about now that the Covid-19 pandemic is largely considered to be a thing of the past? Well, the courtrooms have opened back up, and plenty of cases do go directly in front of a judge, but the virtual court is still in session.
You might wonder why the courtrooms haven’t done away with virtual proceedings since it’s seen as safe to gather once again, but there are many reasons why. There are also some serious consequences that need to be addressed.
How Virtual Litigation is Helping Americans and Legal Professionals
Virtual litigation has a lot of positive points. If it didn’t, it would have been phased out the second it wasn’t necessary anymore, and honestly, it not only stuck around, but it doesn’t look to be going anywhere, either. In fact, it’s growing in popularity around the country.
This doesn’t mean it’s all positive, but here are some key points to think about.
In 2010, expecting everyone who had to go to court to not only have a computer but to also have a great internet connection and video/audio recording peripherals would have blocked a large portion of the population from participating in the litigation process. It would have been a massive mess.
Now, that’s not a problem for the vast majority of people, and for those that don’t have access to such tech, there are plenty of public solutions that can be leveraged.
It’s easier than ever for the vast majority of the population to participate in virtual litigation thanks to high-quality at-home WiFi, the prevalence of decent at-home computers, and even the capability to use smartphones for the same purposes.
2: Accessibility to the Courtroom
Getting to the courtroom can be a major challenge for a lot of people. Many rely on public transportation that does not accommodate their schedules, and for some, that’s not even an option.
Virtual litigation means that anyone with a computer or smartphone, or access to one of those things via libraries, internet cafes, and similar services, can participate in their case to the fullest extent.
This has been a major boon for people who have to handle litigation out of state, don’t have transportation, or have such packed schedules that attending court in person can cost them dearly.
Implementation of virtual technology to handle court proceedings helps cut costs. At least, it can. Because everyone involved can participate from home on an appropriate device, there is no need for travel costs, many of the individuals that are necessary for in-person trials are no longer required, and to a small degree, overhead costs for the courtroom are lowered, as well.
4: Reduced Risks
While lawsuits and other civil matters are rarely dangerous, it’s no secret that the courtroom can often be fairly tense. Especially in serious circumstances. It’s not uncommon for the family members of victims to take the opportunity and attack defendants, and even in civil matters, people who are unhappy with rulings frequently become problematic and out of control, and various other issues can occur.
With virtual litigation, criminal cases can be heard in a manner that keeps someone in an isolated environment while they defend themselves, and in civil situations, anyone losing control over their behavior is not even in the same location as the people they’re mad at. If they become dangerous or otherwise need to be brought in, it’s as simple as calling their local police department and getting the situation under control.
While it’s possible for particularly out-of-control court participants to do something that puts those around them in danger, it is far less likely.
5: Legal Professional Interaction
Many times, key witnesses fail to get to court, or they don’t feel safe going to court for whatever reason. Lawyers, expert witnesses, and other professionals that can make a major impact on a case simply can’t get to a courtroom during the scheduled session. That creates problems, and it can easily cost either side of the case.
Virtual litigation has the same benefits for legal professionals as it does for those who have transportation or scheduling issues. They can take a few moments out of their day, wherever they are, and provide their testimony, speak on behalf of their clients, or otherwise participate even when circumstances would otherwise make that impossible.
Problems Virtual Litigation is Causing for the Legal Industry
While virtual litigation helps the industry in numerous ways and makes it a lot more convenient for participants to interact with the court process, it also presents numerous challenges.
1: Privacy Concerns
Litigation is something that is typically fairly private, but when everyone involved is participating from their living rooms or even public spaces, that privacy is not guaranteed.
There have been plenty of cases where people who are not involved in the case have inserted themselves into it by yelling in the background or otherwise causing problems. Even when they aren’t actively interrupting, they are hearing information that they don’t necessarily have any right to hear.
Typically, someone isn’t going to invite people they don’t trust to sit offscreen and listen to their court proceedings, but problems still arise, and in public spaces, it’s impossible to control.
2: Handling Inappropriate Behavior
In a courtroom, there are law enforcement professionals standing by to help if someone becomes unruly. This can be anything from someone needing to be removed due to inappropriate behavior, or it can be far more serious like a defendant charging after the plaintiff or judge when things don’t go their way. The response is immediate, and the people are prevented from bringing inappropriate items into the courtroom to make those situations worse.
With virtual hearings, that immediate response isn’t possible. If a case does trigger someone into a fit of rage, or they just don’t act appropriately in a court setting, it’s up to local police to respond to it just like they would any other call. In the best situations, that means the person acting inappropriately can continue to be disruptive, and in the worst-case scenario, they can do something far worse. You never know how someone will react when custody of their kids or large sums of money are on the line.
3: Security Concerns
Tech is not impenetrable. Zoom is the most frequently used platform for virtual court proceedings, and it is a stellar platform, but even it is capable of being hacked or hijacked for nefarious reasons. This is a major concern. Remember these are legal court proceedings; not just people having casual conversations.
4: Stability Concerns
Everyone knows how annoying it is to have the Wifi cut out. That is a lot worse when you’re in the middle of life-changing litigation. Phones dying, computers being unplugged, and internet troubles are frequent problems.
5: Participation Problems
When someone is expected to be in court, they know that they show up or face major consequences. There is a sense of urgency and seriousness surrounding a court date. Unfortunately, with virtual court proceedings, many people seem to assume that they can just opt out, or if they don’t like what’s happening, they can just exit the call and go about their day.
This is swiftly handled with the same serious consequences that would come from walking out of a courtroom, but the response isn’t nearly as quick as what would happen in person.
Will Virtual Litigation Impact Legal Professionals Going Forward?
This is a new concept in the legal world. As such, professionals are just now learning how to adapt their strategies and methods to accommodate virtual litigation. However, this isn’t going away, and it is bound to become even more complex the more prevalent it becomes.
You need a hands-on guide to help you prepare yourself for the rise of virtual litigation, and Litigation Legal Insight is here to help. If you’re struggling to adapt now, or you want to stay ahead of future changes to the legal field, contact us, today.