12 weeks or so and counting of “lockdown” or “kinda quarantine” depending on who you ask. It’s been difficult for everyone. From doctors, to dentists, to lawyers, to tennis pros, teachers, PSWs, general labourers, hospitality staff; you name it. The only people I know who are succeeding, if you can call it that; are those people in the video conference industry. If you work for a company which runs or services video conferencing platforms, I suppose you are busy. Also busy are likely those people who manufacture and distribute PPE. Regrettably, most of those factories are overseas, but that’s another story all together….
So; what’s it like to be a personal injury lawyer during the days of COVID?
It’s not that things have totally shut down. Things are just moving at a much slower pace in a different fasion that personal injury lawyers, defence lawyers and insurance adjusters are used to.
It’s certainly not easy. It’s particularly not easy if you aren’t tech savvy. In fact, if you are a technophobe (someone who isn’t capable or handy with technology), you likely cannot really practice law or get much done during the age of COVID.
Take a recent multi party mediation we recently participated in. It involved multiple Defendants. Tort Defendants for a car accident, an accident benefit insurer, along with tort defendants for a slip and fall claim which took place after the car accident.
The mediation took place via ZOOM teleconference. While ZOOM is a relatively easy platform to use, if you’re not sharp with respect to it’s use, you can get lost.
Kudos to the mediator for having a proper grasp of the platform and all of it’s functions (even the updates). Using the messaging features, screen share for important documents, proper use of the breakout rooms and “call” features cannot be understated. Using the “mute” button and black out screen feature also come in handy as well; particularly when one of the lawyers is being ZOOM Bombed by their kids.
Once a deal is done in principal, it’s then time to share the documents via email and get signatures. Getting signatures quickly ensures that momentum from the mediation continues so that no parties get cold feet and back-out of the deal. It also ensures that Plaintiff gets his/her money promptly.
The Releases need to be email to counsel, reviewed, then converted to a sign-able PDF using a program like DocuSign or SignNow. If your personal injury lawyer is not proficient with these programs, your settlement may get delayed. Before COVID, all which needed to be done was to photocopy the Releases for the Plaintiff to sign, and present them to the Plaintiff. Now they need to be converted to PDF, emailed for signature, and emailed back for additional signatures so that everyone gets a copy. Sounds easy, but it’s usually not and it’s certainly time consuming.
What also can’t be underestimated is how the lawyers, mediator and parties come off in the context of a teleconference. In person, you can feel one’s energy in the room. Tears, laughs, sarcasm, anger, upset. You can feel all of those emotions in person in the context of a mediation or hearing. One’s personality or feelings need to come through the screen and connect with the other party. If those emotions aren’t large enough to be felt through the screen, then they won’t be felt, considered or understood by the other participants. With multiple tiny faces on a computer screen, all vying for your attention, all trying to get their points across (sometimes at the same time), how is your point going to be made most effectively?
The same cannot be said over teleconference. Those emotions (which are very important) are not transmitted with the same force over a platform like ZOOM. Tears don’t have the same powerful impact. When you make a joke, the joke needs to be emphasized 10x so that the participants to the teleconference get it. I’m sure a communications professor would have something more meaningful to say about this. Something like Marshall McLughan’s “the Medium is the Message”
But the idea here is that your message; regardless of what it is; doesn’t travel or carry the same weight over a teleconference platform as it would in person. Subtleties are not felt via ZOOM. No offense to Zoom, but that’s the reality of a teleconference platform.
This is why some lawyers and mediators are LESS EFFECTIVE over video as opposed to as they are in person. One’s tools are crafted over the years through in person experiences. If the lawyer or mediator is new to teleconferencing meditations; those little tricks/tactics which may have worked in person either don’t work or don’t have the same impact as they would have in person.
It’s the same premise which political scientists and communications professors look at the Kennedy-Nixon Presidential Debate. This was the first televised debate in American History. Those who watched the debate on TV thought Kennedy won. Those who listened to the debate on radio thought that Nixon had won. It should be noted that Nixon looked ill during the debate while Kennedy looked exactly what you would think a Kennedy would look like (American Royalty).
The pace and space for personal injury litigation has certainly changed. As have the tactics and techniques which lawyers must use. If a personal injury lawyer is not comfortable using technology or able to get his/her message across via Teleconference in today’s day and age, they will run in to road blocks at every turn.
The examples we have used today have related to mediation. The same themes arise for examinations for discovery and hearings and Pre-Trials held by way of teleconference. It’s not just the lawyers who have to change their ways. It’s also Court Staff, private Court Reporters, Judges and Masters. All of these people are having to sift through countless emails and PDF documents to find what they need. Sometimes this is easier than sifting through mountains of paperwork. But it can also be a bit more difficult. Especially when you’re working from home and the internet goes down….Until next time. Stay safe.