Q: Were attorneys hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, or did the legal business and the courts continue on pretty much as before?

-S.M., San Pedro

Ron Sokol

A: The pandemic has had a significant impact on the business of law and the operation of the courts. An automobile accident lawyer I know, for example, experienced no downturn in quantity of claims, but is facing an ongoing difficulty: Several cases she had that were soon going to trial were continued, by as much as a year. This can be quite problematic for lawyers on a contingency (in other words, payment only when there is a monetary recovery), because you lose the leverage of an imminent trial date.

Meetings among attorneys were (and have been) typically by video conferencing, including depositions, not in person. Most that I know worked remotely, as did their staff. I have not heard of a large volume of law firms closing, but the pandemic made for leaner times or, at minimum, challenges, including for clients. In addition, the courts were closed to most visitors; only certain kinds of cases were given immediate attention. Court appearances typically have been done by phone or video conference. Mediations and some (few) trials were done by video connection. Potential jurors were either not called, or when called, were limited in number, with prudent health precautions taken. Not surprisingly, it was difficult to get people to serve on a jury, given the circumstances.

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Thus, emergency orders were issued by presiding judges during the pandemic that have impacted various court functions, including deadlines, with time frames often extended. Far fewer cases were resolved than usual. Sadly, I have heard (but have not statistically verified) that divorce cases increased because people were stuck at home and did not fare well with suddenly all that additional time together.

As of today, older civil cases in Los Angeles County (four years, for example, with a five-year deadline to prosecute) are going to trial first, with many cases each day ready for trial but not enough courtrooms. This crunch differs from county to county, with some locations moving things more promptly, but it is not yet business as usual in many locales. There are signs of the process returning to more of what we knew pre-pandemic, but it is gradual.

In sum, the legal system has adapted and survived, but like so many facets of the community has been substantially challenged and affected by the pandemic.

On a personal note, I went to court the other day and was the only lawyer in the courtroom; all others were by phone or video conference. I was required to wear …read more

Source:: Los Angeles Daily News


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