Just when we thought life was getting back to normal, yet another Coronavirus variant (omicron) is causing courts across the nation to shut down or severely limit services.
In California, both state and federal courts have been impacted. This is causing great frustration for lawyers and litigants alike as our already-burdened court system is suffering yet another significant backlog.
While we may be powerless to control the virus itself, there are things legal professionals can do to survive these massive delays. Here are some of our top tips:
Know that courts may have different restrictions in place
According to the webpage for the Judicial Branch of California, it is up to the individual state courts to decide whether and to what extent they will cut off services due to the Coronavirus surge. That means if you practice across multiple counties, you’ll need to check each court’s local webpage to determine how your cases are impacted.
The same holds true for California’s four federal judicial districts. Thus, if you practice across the Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Central districts, you’ll need to check each court’s individual website before you can determine how to proceed.
Communicate early and often with clients
Interestingly, some legal industry-watchers hypothesize that the pandemic forced lawyers to become much better at communicating with clients.
If that’s true, this latest round of backlogs is a critical time to put those communication skills to work.
While the current state of affairs certainly isn’t “business as usual” for lawyers, at least we have the training and experience to understand the implications of things like the suspension of jury trials, court closures, and filing delays.
Those concepts may be terrifying for clients, some of whom may believe the pandemic is denying them access to justice. Put your clients’ minds at ease by communicating exactly how the relevant reductions in court services will impact their respective matters.
Continue to prioritize your filings
Every good litigator knows that there are critical strategies involved in deciding when to file lawsuits and motions within lawsuits. There are also important practical considerations like statutes of limitations and court deadlines to consider.
While some might presume that court shutdowns (or limited services) due to COVID-19 might be considered good cause for missing such deadlines, that presumption could be a huge mistake. In reality, very few courts actually tolled statutes of limitations or other deadlines during the initial wave of closures.
There’s no reason to think they’ll act differently this time around.
So, by all means, continue to prioritize your filings and if the court imposes delays once you’ve met your deadlines, so be it. At least you haven’t left yourself open to a malpractice suit.
Follow your courts of interest on social media
These days, it seems everybody is on social media.
Well, guess what? The California Courts are no exception.
The Judicial Branch maintains a YouTube channel and an active Twitter account where you receive updates impacting the state court system as a whole. Note, however, that some individual courts also maintain social media accounts, such as this Twitter account from Sonoma County.
You’ll have to search within relevant platforms to find the court accounts that matter most to you and your clients.
As an aside, if you’re curious about how the Judicial Branch operates its social media channels, all policies and procedures are explained on its website.
Bookmark our tracker
What if you’ve met your filing deadline but aren’t hearing anything back from the court about hearing dates or motion decisions?
That’s where this current backlog can get really frustrating.
Nobody knows exactly when courts will be able to process their filings. If you want up-to-the-minute information about your case, however, you should bookmark the One Legal case tracker, which will allow you to access and track the status of your case 24/7.
Remember to be kind
The delays you and your clients are experiencing are undoubtedly frustrating. Nobody likes to be embroiled in litigation, and being stuck in the process longer than usual is just an added stressor.
Please try to remember that you’re not alone. Literally everyone in the court system is experiencing some sort of delay right now.
Perhaps more importantly, you may experience delays that are personal in nature. Opposing counsel or parties may get sick or lose loved ones during the course of litigation. Now is not the time to exploit weaknesses. If anything, the pandemic only heightens the need for civility among legal professionals.
We’re all in the same boat, folks. None of us would have chosen this but we all have a part in getting through it with as little pain as possible.