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Virtual courts and COVID-19: the future is now

Charlie Harrel of Opus 2 discusses with Thomson Reuters Practical Law the benefits and challenges of using virtual courts and whether they will become a permanent fixture after the pandemic.

While virtual legal proceedings have been around for years, it now looks like the legal community has finally adopted them as a permanent fixture. Two major trends have converged to make this possible. Firstly, intense global competition is driving law firms to search for cost efficiencies at every level. Lawyers are increasingly aware of the potentially significant cost and time efficiencies that can be achieved by holding arbitration or litigation proceedings virtually.

Secondly, while there was already a steady increase in the use of technology across law firms, this has now dramatically accelerated due to the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Traditionally slow to embrace technological innovation, the legal profession should be proud of the way that it has responded to this crisis. Indeed, many lawyers have been surprised by how successfully the legal industry has transitioned at scale to a more digital, remote working model. A great example of this transition has been the rapid adoption of virtual proceedings (see News brief “Remote hearings in the COVID-19 era: another new normal?).

Benefits of virtual hearings

One obvious benefit of a virtual hearing is ensuring that a hearing can still proceed, even during a pandemic. In many cases, delaying proceedings is simply not an option for the parties who, above all, need a timely conclusion to their dispute. Preparing digitally will enable parties to have their day in court whether the circumstances allow that to be in person, hybrid or fully virtual. Another clear benefit of virtual hearings is the significant cost savings of eliminating or dramatically reducing the need for participants to travel. 

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