By: KGD Law
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Lawyers in Pajamas: How Zoom Affects Attorney Practice
Social distancing and the coronavirus pandemic have limited the courts’ functioning over the past month. Although proceedings via ZOOM have begun, it is not clear how soon you will see traditional jury trials with members of the jury sitting elbow-to-elbow in the jury box. We do not expect jury trials to begin for the rest of this year. This leaves many questions about how legal proceedings have been occurring. Are lawyers in pajamas practicing from the comfort of their home instead of in a suit from their Zoom account? How COVID-19 affects attorney practice is uncertain.
Many Legal Proceedings Have Been Postponed
On April 6, 2020, Chief Justice Charles T. Canady signed the Comprehensive COVID-19 Emergency Measures for the Florida State Courts. The order is intended to, “Mitigate the effects of this public health emergency upon the judicial branch and its participants.” It also attempts to keep the courts working during this time, which is a challenge.
Specifically, the courts intend to use technology to keep everything from coming to a standstill. This is impossible with any proceedings or events that involve a jury, so all of those cases are postponed. Circuit and county courts can continue to do essential court proceedings such as juvenile hearings and protection orders.
Some Rights are Infringed Upon with Postponement
Justice Canady recognizes the infringement of some rights in an effort to enhance public health and safety. One of those rights is the right to a speedy trial, which is a right afforded by the 6th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. According to the order, this right is suspended until June 1, 2020. In-person visits are also suspended across the legal spectrum, and the courts recommend they be substituted with telephone or video chat. Most of the other rights that are limited by the emergency order have to do with time frames and rules about detaining individuals, and they give a lot of room for case-by-case decision making in order to make as fair of decisions as possible when faced with the limitations of the pandemic.
As can be predicted after learning about the emergency order issued by Justice Canady, tele-law is now the savior of the courts. Judges, attorneys, plaintiffs, defendants, and witnesses are using technology to continue legal matters. This can involve anything from telephone and email to voice chat and group chat. Practically everyone has at least a smartphone, which makes connecting easier. Making connections is one of the main requirements of the legal system.
Zoom is a video conferencing program that has been saving workplaces and classrooms around the nation. It has been the most user-friendly platform for people with all levels of computer knowledge to remotely join conversations that would have otherwise been ended by stay-at-home orders.
One of the greatest things about Zoom is that it has a mobile app. This means you don’t have to set up an office and sit in it in order to do your work. You can join meetings on the go. Whether you are in your car or at an airport, you can be at the meeting. Unfortunately, this leads to some pretty casual entrances to professional meetings.
The Florida courts set up some recommendations for Zoom meetings. These recommendations include wearing neutral colors, standing in front of a neutral background, and looking directly at the camera when speaking. The courts probably thought that being professional was an assumed requirement.
Are Lawyers Really in Pajamas?
Attorneys have apparently taken the ability to work from home for granted. One headline on a local news station’s website reads:
“Judge to lawyers: Please get out of bed and put on a shirt for Zoom court hearings.”
Yes, at least one lawyer has showed up to a Zoom hearing without his shirt on. Others have neglected to fix their hair or even get out of bed. The pandemic and stay-at-home order has created the phenomenon of lawyers practicing law in their pajamas. On its face, this is comical. However, it is understandable that the judge is asking for it to stop. The hearings are very serious incidents for those involved, and they should be taken seriously by their representation. Zoom meetings cannot equate to the end of professionalism.
Other Challenges to Zoom Hearings
There are many other challenges to Zoom hearings, but most of them are typical of new technology. People using Zoom must have enough bandwidth to get real-time video and audio to their computers or risk major communication errors. Some people may have privacy issues that cannot be remedied remotely. Of course, the impact of all statements has been questioned. However, the use of witness testimony and the need for it to be impactful is typically an issue for a jury. Trials requiring a jury have been postponed. Furthermore, many people don’t think that remote testimony negates any impact.
Benefits to Zoom Hearings
Overall, the benefits to Zoom meetings outweigh the disadvantages. This isn’t true for all cases, but it is in many. Victims who don’t want to be in the same room don’t have to relive their trauma due to the judicial system. Travel is no longer an issue. The courts can avert travel costs and save the planet costly emissions via travel.
Zoom is not a new entity, and the courts have been considering the implications of remote court appearances for quite a while. The COVID-19 outbreak has simply hastened the process. The slow, systematic process of implementing new technology has been replaced. Instead, the courts have had to adjust practices by a trial-by-fire method that will create some errors. It will also bring the advantages of remote legal work headfirst into the court system.
During a crisis like a pandemic, it is good to look for the silver linings. For the Florida Justice System, one of those silver linings may be the forced transition to remote technology. The halting of trials by jury is another thing that must be remedied. For now, the courts can continue some of their duties by using technology.
Professionalism Must Remain in Zoom Meetings
Most people understand the urge to show up to work in pajamas especially when working remotely. In some cases, it may even be appropriate to do this. This is only true when the interaction is more casual and among colleagues. It is usually not true with clients, although there may be an emergency situation that warrants it. In these cases, the ability to work remotely is an advantage once again.
It should go without saying that the legal profession is one were professionalism is desired. The courts handle issues that are serious to those who need them. There is rarely room for comedy or casualness among the legal system’s professionals. The fact that a judge needed to tell lawyers to put on their clothes to come to hearings is sort of funny, but it is also a serious matter, and the pandemic is no excuse for inappropriate behavior by legal professionals.
If you are looking for a professional legal team with years of experience and technical expertise, contact the law offices of Kirshner, Groff, and Diaz. You’ll speak to an actual lawyer right away, and he’ll give a no-obligation consultation about your potential case and how it will be handled during the pandemic.