Providers of remote court appearance technology are getting more requests from new and existing clients as the coronavirus has spurs some courts to cease in-person hearings and others to temporarily shut down.
Courts have issued a range of orders in attempts to limit public exposure to the virus, from directions to attend hearings remotely, to self-quarantining if necessary. Courts in states including Washington, California, and Texas announced cancellations or other changes to their hearing schedules as a result of virus concerns, and others warned they may be headed in the same direction.
Legal tech vendors that allow judges, lawyers, and other court participants to conduct proceedings by telephone or in some cases video report they’ve been in discussions with a growing number of court officials looking to conduct court hearings remotely.
Morris Massel, founder and president of CourtSolutions, says there’s been a “significant bump” in new sign-ups for the company’s services since the virus began to take hold in the U.S., as well as increased requests from existing users. “People are coming to grips with what’s going on,” he said.
The CEO and co-founder of CourtCall, the oldest and largest remote court appearance provider, said he’s also received calls from a growing number court officials in recent days.
“What we’re seeing is that courts are now paying more attention to the virus,” said Bob Alvarado. He said that although “it’s not a waterfall just yet,” that could change as court systems search for ways to scrap traditional in-person hearings as ways to try to protect judges, court staffers, attorneys, and others enmeshed in civil and criminal proceedings.
CourtCall has enlisted an extensive roster of court clients ranging from federal bankruptcy and U.S. District Courts, to county-level superior courts in states like Florida, Colorado, and California, where the company is based.
Since it started its work in 1996, the company has hosted about six million completed remote appearances, Alvarado said.
The company notes on its website that some of these remote appearances have taken place during emergencies or natural disasters. That includes Hurricane Sandy, when the company was granted the right to record all of the hearings of the Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of New York over several weeks in November 2012.
Competitors have come and gone in the space. And several courts have opted not use a private legal tech vendor, instead using different county- and other government-developed remote appearance systems.
CourtSolutions has been fully operational since 2016, said Massel, a Big Law veteran who has worked at Willkie Farr & Gallagher and more recently Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.
The need for remote hearings was clear during his time as a bankruptcy and corporate reorganization lawyer, said Massel, who often traveled to attend multi-party hearings that he said could have been handled more efficiently over the phone.
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