Keeping Cases Moving in Federal Court
By Lance Hendron, Esq.
As unprecedented as the COVID-19 pandemic is, we live in a time where working remotely while handling a large caseload is completely feasible. Although the transition to remote work has not been without its kinks, and my office is no exception, keeping cases moving may be more efficient than ever, which is a good sign for an already over-burdened court system.
The initial transition into working remotely was at first daunting, but I am quickly becoming accustomed to this new way of remote lawyering. The U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada issued a temporary order at the outset of COVID-19 for the authorization of video and telephone conferencing due to public safety concerns. Defense counsel is also provided with permission to sign documents on behalf of his or her clients.
In some ways, the court system was already equipped to handle working remotely prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. For example, the ability to e-file documents into the court dockets promotes efficiency and ease for attorneys and the courts. While working from home, this has not changed, since anyone with a scanner has the ability to e-file documents from their home computers. Even without a scanner, it is possible to scan documents with the iPhone’s Notes app. In an age of technology, it is fully possible to continue maintaining the ability to e-file documents with the court. All of my pleadings are e-signed by me and easily e-filed by myself or office staff.
Another area of concern with working remotely are adjustments to the courts’ calendars and deadlines. While court dockets have always been fluid in these aspects, the transition to working remotely has caused problems related to substantial postponements for many cases. But the use of Zoom and other similar applications has allowed many calendars to press on, while having attorneys appear remotely. This adaptation has not only prevented delays, but has also demonstrated the ability to avoid the busy courthouses and traffic-related delays in counsel appearances. With the use of video appearances, deadlines are sure to be met, and cases have avoided being unreasonably delayed. For my own cases, Zoom has made court appearances significantly easier and timely. Much of my courtroom work has been done remotely since the start of the pandemic, including sentencings.
Technology has also ensured the ability to maintain communication with court clerks. For clerks who are also working remotely, email remains an effective mode of communication. There are sometimes issues with receiving responses in a timely manner, but this issue is dependent on the department. For the most part, my communication with court clerks is adequate. Still, last-minute tasks needed for a case may not always yield quick results from clerks working from home.
COVID-19 has caused a number of problems for countless individuals, and the court system is no exception. But by utilizing the extent of technology available to us, managing cases while working remotely is fully within the realm of possibilities. By maintaining communication with opposing counsel, court clerks, and my office staff, working remotely has not hindered my ability to manage my cases.