Normally, it depends. It depends on what you are trying to accomplish, how much you personally expect to rely on technology and your urgency in resolving your case. But, with the coronavirus (or COVID-19) grinding daily life to a halt, there is a lot more to be considered.
I know and talk to a lot of attorneys that have been practicing for 25 years or more, and they have developed a sixth-sense about reading a judge, the opposing party, or even court staff. I aspire to be as natural as many of them. One challenge for these same attorneys is that they have relied on doing things the same way for their entire careers. Some have adapted and use email and texting, but that is about as far as they go when it comes to technology. Many still rely on meeting face-to-face with every client or potential client. Who could have imagined that the coronavirus would be the thing to change the way they practice law?
Technology has been creeping into courtrooms at a snail's pace, but COVID-19 might be the thing that finally modernizes the way law is practiced. The courts will be slow, but attorneys have a huge opportunity to be at the forefront with clients and offer services that makes it more convenient for people to work with attorneys. Below are 3 things most lawyers should be able to do without much trouble to keep your case on track while "social distancing" is the norm:
1. Electronic Signature. If the only way you can sign something for your attorney is by going to their office, that should be a red flag. There are a lot of easy to use tools out there and a lot of them offer free trials or free accounts for a certain number of users. We actually have two different e-signature solutions that we use, but we rely primarily on Adobe SIgn.
2. Credit Card Payments. There was a time when credit card payments were discouraged by bar associations because of the possibility of chargebacks and credit card fees being taken out of layers' IOLTA accounts (the trust accounts where client funds are held separately). There are several services that have addressed this back-end accounting problem for lawyers, but some attorneys still resist credit cards because of the transaction fees. That seems a little short-sighted to me because of the expectations of many consumers that anything can be paid with a credit card. Frankly, if I need to pay something with a check today there is a lot of rummaging through drawers at home hoping to find a checkbook. It is a hassle for me to pay by check, I think clients feel the same way.
3. Electronic Files. We strive to be paperless in our office and even though we aren't 100% there yet, every piece of paper we touch is scanned and saved in a client's electronic file. I can't tell you the number of times I have been at home and needed to look at something from weeks or months ago. Fortunately, that is no problemo, we can access electronic files from anywhere. Unfortunately, many attorneys rely on having physical copies of everything. If your attorney insists on having physical documents dropped off or mailed to their office, that may be a cause for concern. Sometimes that is a necessity, but it should be the exception.
Some of these things may not matter at all to you or to your case. But, what happens if social distancing is just the beginning? Lawyers in New Orleans didn't see the risks before Hurricane Katrina, and it took years for the legal system there to recover. We are fortunate that this is not a circumstance where there is a once-in-a-lifetime storm, but we don't know where the coronavirus response is headed.