Doreen Hartwell participates in the IR Global Disputes Virtual Series – Technology & Disputes: The impact of new technology on litigation and dispute resolution

Doreen HartwellPartner, Hartwell Thalacker, LTD.

Foreward by Andrew Chilvers

For the legal sector, COVID-19 has been a huge catalyst for change globally. Overnight, almost all legal advisors decamped en masse from their expensive mid-town and city offices to their homes to work. Personal meetings suddenly disappeared to be replaced by virtual meetings on Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

As the UK went into Lockdown only 2% of lawyers admitted they worked from home, according to a recent survey by RollOnFriday. com. Those attitudes have now changed radically as countries and territories around the world have gone into Lockdown and the vast majority of people have become home workers. Now almost 75% of legal advisors admit they would happily work from home three days a week and – amazingly – only 7% said they wanted to return to the office full time.

Above all, working remotely may have broken the longstanding links between office and work. Some 44% of respondents said in the long term they only wanted to return to the office for two days a week at the most. Many lawyers also believe working from home is good for their work /life balance. Elsewhere, many have said working remotely significantly improves efficiency, with less commuting time and disturbances around the office. In this virtual series legal members of IR Global gave a fascinating insight into this new world of working and how each jurisdiction has been handling their operations during Lockdown and the post-COVID-19 period.

What steps are you taking to adapt your services to the new remote working environment?

For the most part it has been business as usual for Hartwell Thalacker Ltd. despite COVID-19. In 2014, we decided to go cloud based for our firm management system. Thus, working remotely has been our firm’s model for the past six years.

Since the pandemic, we have very few in-person meetings. For the clients who insist on meeting in person face masks are required and social distancing. As for the courts, Nevada has required attorneys to file documents electronically for many years. Prior to COVID-19, non-lawyers were able to file documents in person. Now, they are able to email their documents to the clerk of the court to be filed.

Similarly, proposed orders that normally would be dropped off at the court for signature are now required to be submitted via email. Finally, depositions are now done virtually. Zoom has been the most user-friendly videoconference software.

Virtual commissioning – are we there yet?

In Nevada, everything can be signed electronically with regards to court filings. In our state court system, documents that require signatures from both sides can also be signed with a typed signature with permission from opposing counsel as long as she/he is copied on the electronically submitted order. As a result of COVID-19, the federal court allows attorneys to electronically sign declarations on behalf of clients with the client’s permission.

However, certain estate planning documents must be notarized and witnessed. Clients would need to sign either at the lawyer’s office or before a mobile notary who will go to the client. Some colleagues who have clients come into the office for signings will have the notary witness the signing from the other side of a partition and through a window. Despite the pandemic, in person document signing is still common, but now with social distancing in most instances. There are different ways of handling in-person signings, but the courts have definitely relaxed the rules with regards to signatures for court documents.

As noted above, attorneys are required to electronically file all court documents. Attorneys are also required to accept electronic service of documents filed by opposing counsel. Non-attorneys representing themselves do not have the proper registration that allows access to the court’s filing system and therefore are allowed to email their documents to the court clerk who processes the filing on behalf of the party. While procedures have been relaxed regarding litigation, not so much regarding transactional law.

What is happening regarding online dispute resolution in your jurisdiction?

The state courts are using BlueJeans and it appears to work well. Most judges are in the courtroom with the court reporter and bailiff. The attorneys appear virtually, joining either by telephone or video. However, for depositions, Zoom seems to be the best technology according to the different court reporter services. I have taken document intensive depositions virtually and I must say it’s definitely been a learning curve in terms of the most efficient way of sharing the documents with the deponent and opposing counsel.

The most effective way to conduct a deposition is with everyone in the same location. However, virtual depositions will remain the norm for the short term and may require much more preparation. For document intensive depositions, one option is to provide all of your proposed exhibits to third-party deponents in advance. This allows the deponent to quickly review a document without the need to scroll through long documents on a shared screen. However, if the deponent is the opposing party, one may not want to give advance notice of all the exhibits. Regardless of whether the exhibits are provided to the deponent in advance, each exhibit should be a separate electronic document for easy access.

Regarding the rise of technology, how much do you understand about blockchain for your clients?

I have attended a couple of seminars regarding blockchain technology; I’m unfamiliar with its use in Nevada for any evidentiary purposes.