Tony S. Gruchot participates in the IR Global Disputes Virtual Series – Technology & Disputes: The impact of new technology on litigation and dispute resolution

Tony S. GruchotAssociate, GrahamThompson

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?

Well, we do use a video suite that we set up in this office, which actually hadn’t been used until the lockdown and we’ve now discovered Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Because of lockdown we are now getting face-to-face client meetings and mask wearing is compulsory. There’s also been the introduction of remote hearings, video hearings and e-filing at the court. Along with all this, it’s generally business as usual.

Virtual commissioning – are we there yet?

No. That’s the short answer. We are swearing affidavits, generally in person. There was a time during Lockdown when we were dealing with them remotely and then we had certain notaries that would notarize virtually. They would come on to a call, sign the documents, then the document would be sent across to them and they would then notarize it as being sworn.

Given the relaxations on Lockdown that we now have, this seems to have fallen by the wayside and we’re generally swearing documents face to face.

We don’t use e-signatures at all. The court started sending out documents with seals on and orders with the judges’ signatures on but that seems to have taken a slight backtrack.

So, in essence, no. It is really still very much face-to-face here.

What is happening regarding online dispute resolution in your jurisdiction?

Well, the court here is using Microsoft Teams. They seem to prefer that platform and as an acting magistrate I’ve done a number of trials, criminal and civil, remotely. How easy is that? Well, I prefer in-person hearings. The court made a decision recently that you ideally need to see the person. You need to be there with them to assess their credibility. Working remotely becomes very difficult with documents. If you have a document heavy case, then it’s almost impossible and it depends on the equipment that everybody is using as well. You can share a screen so you can upload a document into Microsoft teams, but if someone is using a smartphone, for example, they can’t see them. Different equipment has different facilities. It also becomes very difficult if the internet connections are not good.

If we have someone on another Island and their connection is poor, that can cause big problems to the point where you just simply can’t function. What happens at that point? You just say, look, we can’t we can’t go ahead with this. We just have to adjourn to another day because for some bizarre reason, the Internet connection seems to fluctuate with the weather. If we have bad weather, the connection is appalling. You can’t see anything.

The other issue is Zoom, which seems to work a lot better than Microsoft Teams when there are multiple microphones. With Teams there’s a lot more feedback, so everyone has to be muted.

It’s not ideal, but we get through it.

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

My answer is going to be very little to nothing and it’s certainly not something that the Turks and Caicos Islands is involved with.