ABA Lawyers Broadly Support Remote Depositions

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Eighty-eight percent of lawyers responding to a recent American Bar Association survey said they prefer the use of remote depositions in their practices. Another 93% supported the use of remote technologies for all pretrial hearings.

The survey results are further evidence of the rapid and profound transition toward wider use of remote technologies in the legal profession.

Law Offices Evolve to Support Remote Work

The ABA’s 2022 Practice Forward Report: Where Does the Legal Profession Go From Here? drew nearly two thousand responses from May 31 to June 15, 2022. The largest areas of practice focus for survey respondents were civil litigation (23%) and corporate/transactional work (13%).

According to the report:

As courts are moving towards a return to full in-person proceedings, most respondents take a flexible position about remote versus in-person. Lawyers prefer that courts allow many pretrial proceedings to take place remotely, via Zoom or other similarly accessible platforms. Thus, a majority of respondents report that they prefer mediations, depositions, pretrial hearings, and even bench trials to take place remotely.

The breakdown of legal proceedings that survey respondents would like to see conducted remotely was:

Professional support for remote technologies isn’t limited to court proceedings. Lawyers responding to the ABA survey also signaled a desire for greater use of technology in their law office environment as well as with educational conferences and meetings.

Survey respondents mentioned the following as either “very important” or “extremely important” to their law practices:

Just 8% of survey respondents supported in-person continuing legal education conferences, while 39% said they wanted videoconference-only CLEs, and 53% called for “hybrid CLEs” — a format that gives attendees the choice of participating in-person or remotely. Support for virtual professional conferences and meetings was similarly skewed in favor of videoconference and hybrid events.

The report, drafted by the ABA Coordinating Group on Practice Forward, said that the survey had identified a need for law firm leaders to use technology to create a safe and secure working environment where the lawyer’s home office was roughly equivalent to the firm’s business office technology-wise.

Smaller business offices and better home offices are the way to go, they suggested.

“The same resources needed to sustain business offices can be transferred to supporting a home office,” the report said. “The substantial cost savings resulting from a diminished need for office space for lawyers working from home can be invested in additional technological and administrative support.”

There is evidence that this tradeoff is already being made in some law firms. Reuters recently reported that several law firms are shrinking their physical office footprint and making investments that encourage and support evolving modes of hybrid legal work.

Transition to Virtual Justice Continues

The benefits and challenges of remote technologies are also on the minds of court administrators. In a report released on November 25, 2022, the National Center for State Courts cited the benefits of virtual court proceedings as it identified key considerations for remote hearings and the acquisition of enabling technologies.

The NCSC’s Remote Proceeding Toolkit encourages court administrations to study the ways in which remote hearings impact legal rights (for better or worse), to consider the minimum technological requirements for an effective virtual proceeding, and to review annually whatever virtual hearing policies are adopted.

“Virtual hearings are new territory,” the toolkit drafters wrote. “Policies regarding remote hearings should not stay static, as there are frequent changes to technologies and practices based on experience.”

Task forces in Arizona, California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, and Utah are already studying virtual justice issues and making recommendations to the judiciary in their jurisdictions. This work, and the efforts of other experts who will inevitably begin the necessary policy development processes in their states, promises to remake the judicial system in ways that were unimaginable — except to a small group of legal futurists — only a few years ago.

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