Social Distancing Is No Barrier to Social Justice
TeleLaw is the remote practice of law using audio/visual technology to allow individuals to access legal counsel and the court system to address their myriad of legal needs; offering an acceptable alternative to in-person meetings. We are an injury law firm and TeleLaw has allowed us to continue to move forward with and resolve our clients’ accident cases during the coronavirus pandemic. My personal experience using TeleLaw during our Massachusetts shutdown has convinced me that TeleLaw is here to stay. Unlike Telemedicine, where some aspects of medical care require in person contact, such as blood work, x rays, MRI’s and surgeries, TeleLaw has no such limitations. Every aspect of handling a client’s injury case can (and has) been done virtually. And as you will read, I do mean EVERY aspect. The benefits of using virtual technology to resolve injury related legal disputes far outweigh any argued disadvantages in my opinion. When the threat of COVID 19 has passed, the continued use of TeleLaw to supplement (not substitute) our traditional delivery of legal services will do much to streamline the handling of cases in our court system.
As Massachusetts slowly begins to reopen after more than two months of being shut down we will be walking into a new world shortly. A world where we will need to coexist with the coronavirus for some undetermined period of time. That means more social distancing (a term I despise by the way, it should be called physical distancing) and changing the way we interact with those around us. There will be more 6-foot markers in stores, fewer people in restaurants, people wearing masks and fewer people willing to go anywhere where close physical encounters are likely. The obvious casualties of these behavior modifications will be concerts, bars, sporting events, and movie theaters. But one aspect of our American experience that may change forever, that we don’t hear much about, is how we will access and utilize our justice system for both civil and criminal cases. People will continue to avoid unnecessary close contact with others and that reluctance may lead many to forgo their legal rights out of fear that in person contact with a lawyer, either in an office setting or in court, is required. They may wrongfully assume that no other alternative exists. That would be an injustice. Fortunately, in today’s world of readily available virtual communication, we can prevent necessary social distancing from becoming an unnecessary barrier to our justice system. I believe the increased use of video teleconferencing technology, born out of necessity over the last two months, will become a permanent part of how we as a society resolve our legal disputes. I believe the term "TeleLaw" will become as ubiquitous as telemedicine. But as I mentioned above, unlike in medicine, I believe ALL aspects of an injury claim can be effectively handled without a client ever stepping foot in a lawyer’s office or a courthouse. Let’s discuss how this works.
Virtual Initial Client Intake
When someone has been involved in an accident and wants to consult with an attorney, there are many ways to find one. Whether it's a referral from a friend or family member, a TV ad or a simple Google search, most cases begin with a phone call or a web inquiry. Most of our clients come to us through referrals from prior clients or attorneys, and through our website. Many new clients take advantage of our free educational materials and videos on our website then call us directly. Once a client contacts our office we try our best to prequalify the potential client to determine whether we can help them. If we can, we schedule an in-person meeting. At this initial meeting documents are typically signed memorializing our attorney-client relationship and we begin our work representing the client. Since the shutdown, we have been conducting our intakes via Zoom with great success. Luckily, we had previously invested in high-quality, permanently installed audio/visual equipment that allows our potential clients to interact with our attorneys and staff in our conference rooms, giving them the most lifelike meeting experience possible. All documents that need to be signed are signed using DocuSign via email right there during the meeting just like always. In our experience clients loved the convenience and safety of remaining at home yet still having a more formal face-to-face conversation with one of our lawyers.
Client Status Updates Via Zoom
We have a system in place where each client receives scheduled updates on their file. Typically, a Case Manager or attorney will call the client at least once every 30 days to update them on the status of their case whether there has been significant work done during the month or not. It’s a great way to ensure we keep a detailed history of what our clients are going through as they rehab from their injuries and clients are regularly reminded that we are working on their case. Since the shutdown, with a bit more time on our hands, we have been doing these “update” calls via Zoom. We found the amount of additional time it takes to schedule a video call is minimal and that we are able to get much more helpful information from a client when we see them live. Based on our experience, we plan to continue to use Zoom for these monthly update calls moving forward.
Settling Cases and Court Appearances Circa 2020
Much of the work necessary to bring a client’s injury case to the point of a negotiated settlement with an insurance company does not require in-person meetings with the client. But, when we can’t come to an agreement on settlement our clients ‘options are limited to mediation, arbitration or litigation; all dispute resolution methods that until recently required the client to be present. Not any longer. During the last 60 days our firm has successfully initiated lawsuits electronically, and taken depositions using Zoom. We even resolved a substantial injury case by way of Zoom during the shutdown. I was initially reluctant to participate in a virtual mediation as it required my client and me to be in separate locations and I was concerned that my “private” conversations with my client during the process might be compromised by the limitations in the technology or by my inexperience using it. I was wrong. The mediation was conducted by Attorney Geoffrey B. White of Legal Options Inc. and it was handled in the most professional manner. Prior to the mediation all parties were instructed on how the process would work and it went off without a hitch.
Now you might be wondering, “what about in court motions and jury trials?” Prior to May 4th, Massachusetts Courts were hearing only emergency matters. Those matters focused primarily on criminal defendants being arraigned after an arrest. Now however every department of our trial courts is hearing more and more nonemergency matters by way of phone conferences and an increasing use of videoconferencing. In fact, the courts have just recently begun to implement system wide Zoom capabilities. In a conversation I had with a District Court Judge the other day I was informed that every courthouse in Massachusetts now has at least one license for Zoom and they are working on increasing that capability to accommodate more use of the technology. In a letter from the Supreme Judicial Court to members of the bar, we were informed that court houses are expected to physically reopen sometime during the summer but only in stages and only for certain matters that require in person appearances. They also made it clear that even as courthouses reopened they will still need to conduct most court business virtually to reduce the number of people that come in and out of the courthouse each day. Our courthouses used to serve approximately 40,000 people per day Those days are gone as in my opinion. In the letter the Justices wrote, "even when this pandemic is behind us, we do not believe we will or should go back to doing things as we did in February". Such language indicates procedures are changing for good. Soon I believe our court system will be equipped to handle all of an injury claimants’ judicial needs virtually, by way of Zoom or telephonically. Proof of the direction we might be heading can be found in a recent Dallas, Texas case. Believed to be a first in the nation, the Texas jury trial was successfully conducted entirely over Zoom. I believe virtual trials will never be the norm, but the technology exists to ensure that in times of crisis in the future, our judicial system can and will be capable of ensuring full access to justice without substantial disruption like we have experienced during this pandemic.
TeleLaw at Spada Law Group
By providing virtual assistance and holding meetings over video conferences, we can now consult with our clients and potential clients in different cities or states, without them spending time and money traveling to and from our offices. At our law firm, you can now connect with our attorneys or our skilled Case Managers over Zoom or other video conferencing services, regardless of where in Massachusetts you in live, including Boston, Worcester or Springfield.
So, although we may not be able to meet in person for a bit longer, and there is no reason we must, we want people to know, if they have questions for us to reach out. We would be happy to set up a video meeting with you and answer your questions.
The Best Thing You Can Do After You've Been In A Car Accident
The best thing you can do if you were injured in an accident at any point during the shutdown or before and want to be fairly compensated is to understand your legal rights before you make any decisions. Before you speak to an insurance company adjuster, sign or submit any paperwork or hire a lawyer, you owe it to yourself to get as much information as you can, so you can make a smart decision on what you need to do next. At Spada Law Group, we offer free consumer guides and videos that answer many of the questions car accident victims have. Take a look, download our free information or contact us for a free video consultation. Learn what Spada Law Group is all about and how we might be the right personal injury lawyers for you.
From all of us here at Spada Law Group, please stay safe. We will get through this together.