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COVID-19 Pushes the Legal Profession into the Digital Age

November 16, 2020

COVID-19 Pushes the Legal Profession into the Digital Age

Author: NYC Immigration Lawyer Alena Shautsova

While some people have appreciated the convenience of webcam-to-webcam conversations for years, many lawyers and consultants have avoided the options completely. Some will offer phone consultations while others have a strict policy of coming into the office for any question or to drop off any document. Other lawyers, like myself, have offered both office appointments or physically dropping off the documents with an assistant as well as Skype or phone consultations and the option to email documents to the office email address. The Courts and other legal-related services have also, for the most part, favored in-person hearings over hearings held via Zoom or the phone and paper submission over internet submission of documents. The refusal to offer the choice between legal services online or in-person could be due to a lack of technical skills, resources, or simply personal preference of the attorney, Judge, or administrative clerks. One thing is for sure: the legal landscape is rapidly changing due to COVID-19.

Courts and attorneys are canceling in-person appointments and hearings and rescheduling cases on a weekly basis. With shutdowns across the country, some of which have lasted since March 2020, the legal profession is developing methods to continue moving cases forward and keep people safe at the same time. This past week, the first socially distant criminal trial in New York took place since the shutdown. In terms of Immigration cases, this would be the equivalent of an individual hearing in removal proceedings. The way Courts conduct Zoom hearings, for now; I will agree that face to face observations between a defendant and a judge or a jury member may be better. These fraction of a second facial expressions and gestures are essential aspects of a trial that can make the difference between winning your case and losing. However, at the rate Courts are evolving in light of COVID-19, I am not sure my answer will be the same if they can rollout 4k webcams and TVs with highspeed internet. COVID-19 is pushing the legal profession to make much-needed service changes two decades overdue. Hopefully, when COVID-19 disappears, and the world recovers from the global pandemic, the choice to appear in-person or online will not disappear as well.

So, what are the benefits of online consultations?

  1. Convenience – Whether it is regular work hours getting in the way or travel time: Skype or phone consultations save time and money.
    1. No more need to take off from work to make an appointment with an attorney.
    1. No need to plan an hour-long consultation during a lunch break that lasts an hour.
      1. When people do this, they cut their appointment short because of travel time and end up going back to work “hangry” and feeling like they didn’t get their full consultation or all of their questions answered.
    1. Save time on travel.
  2. Comfort – Have the consultation in a comfortable place: your home.
    1. When a person is comfortable, they answer questions more clearly and accurately, which is a crucial step to analyze a legal case.
    1. Moreover, people feel less pressured to hire an attorney if they are not ready to do so when they are at home instead of the attorney’s office.
    1. Sometimes it is best to wait a few weeks to hire rather than start stressed about an immigration issue and finish the consultation stressed about finances. Take your time and review your budget.
    1. If you are hiring my firm, aside from removal proceeding cases, for most cases, you can call to set up a payment plan that fits your budget.
  3. Results – With less time spent traveling, attorneys and Court personnel have more time to do what you want them to do: work on your case (or consult you). The average travel time for people who work in NYC is 45 minutes.
    1. Eliminating this travel time has allowed my practice to handle extra work
    1. Courts are seeing results from the lack of travel time and an exciting increase in productivity, particularly USCIS and the Immigration Courts.
    1. Reports of people receiving receipts and fingerprint notices sooner than the expected month-long wait are coming in.
    1. Furthermore, I expect that once USCIS handles the backlog of cases from the full shutdown, they will process US Immigration cases faster; Judges will rule on pending motions faster; immigrants with pending cases will have their cases decided faster.

What are the cons of an online legal system?

  1. The biggest con to an online legal system is the idea that third actors will violate a person’s privacy.
  2. When it comes to trials, no one will observe and analyze the trial better than an in-person participant. No one is arguing that Immigration Courts should allow master hearings to be held over the phone or video conference software. However, In-person trials vs. Online or Phone trials are still frowned upon.
    1. It is possible to quantify the experience mentioned above into the comparison of a person attending a Broadway show in-person vs. watching the performance live and deciding to stand and clap to show appreciation.
    1. Not many people will stand up from their living rooms to clap, but then again, watching the performance live does not allow the actors to see whether you stand and clap or stay seated.
    1. The real question is whether the performance from your living room was good enough to get you to stand up and clap or not if the actors could see you.
    1. It may be easier to make a biased or unbiased choice when the person is not in front of you. The decision to rule on a case based on bias is up to the individual jury members or Judges. In terms of Immigration, juries do not decide cases, and luckily, Judges and prosecutors have training in making decisions based on fact and law rather than a subjective bias.

All in all, the landscape is undoubtedly changing, and it is important to keep up with the sometimes-overwhelming digital revolution if you want the best results. Judges are becoming more tech-savvy and preferring e-submissions to paper-submissions (save the trees!). If you are looking for a firm that is keeping up with the trends and changes in US Immigration law, and as a result, exceeding expectations:

  1.  Call us today @ 917-885-2261
  2. Message us on Facebook @immigrationlawyerny
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