E-Discovery’s Loss Is Court Tech’s Gain Amid Court’s COVID-19 Slowdown

vTestify CEO Mike Hewitt was featured in a recent Law.com article regarding the transition toward remote video conference platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

E-Discovery’s Loss Is Court Tech’s Gain Amid Court’s COVID-19 Slowdown


Remote courtroom providers are already seeing a spike in business related to increased video conferencing needs. That growth could become permanent as both lawyers and courts become more comfortable with the technology.

By Frank Ready and Alaina Lancaster | April 13, 2020 at 10:00 AM

Courts around the country are slowing down as they attempt to grapple with the travel restrictions or social distancing orders implemented to impede the spread of the novel coronavirus—and the trickle-down effect on legal technology has not gone unnoticed. Companies specializing in remote court technology are already seeing a spike in business, while e-discovery or litigation-centric providers could be seeing their docket of upcoming projects dwindle.

So why the dichotomy? Mary Mack, CEO and chief legal technologist at EDRM, previously told Legaltech News that many litigation matters that were already in a court’s pipeline before COVID-19 will likely continue onward, but new cases—and the work they provide—will likely become harder to come by as corporate clients refocus their priorities to deal with the virus’ economic fallout. “Survival is more important than suing,” Still, Brett Burney of Burney Consultants hasn’t gotten the sense that lawyers are stopping their contracts with e-discovery providers. He thinks that many could be waiting to see how social distancing mandates are updated over the next week or two.

“But we’re kind of running out of time to keep paying something. Again it all comes back to the client. What does the client want to do?”

Meanwhile, cases that are continuing to make their way through the court system likely aren’t doing so without the aid of technology providers, especially as courts look to balance social distancing with a timely outcome.

The California Supreme Court, for example, has been live webcasting its oral arguments since May 2016, but after issuing a standing order on March 13 suspending in-person oral arguments, the court was forced to upgrade its tech posture.

Clerk/Court Executive Officer Jorge Navarrete recommended a solution combining video conferencing tool Dolby Voice Room with the digital meeting platform BlueJeans to allow justices and defendants to participate in a proceeding remotely. Other courts have taken similar measures, with California’s Contra Costa Superior Court relying on Zoom video conferencing and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco indicating it was also connecting attorneys with the information they need to participate in court proceedings through video. 

While Zoom or Dolby Voice Room may not be strictly legal tech companies, law-centric providers such as Opus 2 are still noticing a boost in related business. Opus 2 is a connected case management company that helps facilitate electronic hearings for arbitration. Graham Smith-Bernal, CEO of Opus 2, indicated the company had seen a massive uptick in inquiries over the last two weeks from law firms involved in trials, arbitrations and depositions. Many of those clients had one thing in common: “The big missing piece was video conferencing. … We’ve had video conferencing in the hearings before, but suddenly the way these hearings could go totally virtual is with the aid of video conferencing,” Smith-Bernal said.

And as law firms and courts alike continue to rely more heavily on video conferencing, there’s a chance that legal-specific providers could become their preferred choice over more general platforms such as Zoom or BlueJeans. Virtual deposition platform vTestify, for example, combines multiple video streams into a single “virtual deposition room” so that all the parties can interact as needed.

President and CEO Mike Hewitt pointed to the confidentiality requirements lawyers face along with recent FBI warnings about hackers intruding on Zoom calls as forces pushing lawyers toward more legal industry-centric solutions.

“A lot of [firms], their knee-jerk reaction was to Zoom, and now they are pulling back on that because of all of the security concerns,” Hewitt said.

Those same misgivings could blaze the way toward legal tech providers willing to implement more robust encryption and security measures around video conferencing and other remote communication tools. But, of course, none of that matters if both law firms and courts revert to business as usual after COVID-19-induced social distancing has passed, a scenario that seems less and less likely the longer the pandemic continues.

For one thing, neither lawyers nor courtrooms may be ready to let go of virtual court technology so soon. Tomu Johnson, of counsel at Parsons Behle & Latimer, thinks that remote depositions and virtual court hearings will continue long after COVID-19 has subsided as the various parties involved become used to interacting via technology. “I have a feeling that as time goes on, you’ll see courts become more amenable to letting clients digitally cast into the courtroom rather than always having to be present,” he said.

There may be other reasons to extend the lifespan of remote court tech beyond just convenience or necessity. Hewitt at vTestify recently spoke with a partner at an Am Law 100 firm who wanted to extend the use of video conferencing and other remote technologies beyond COVID-19. Instead, she wanted to help reduce the firm’s travel and environmental footprint as part of an ongoing green initiative.” That’s something I’ve never heard before. It’s a first,” Hewitt said. 

Frank Ready

Frank Ready is a reporter on the tech desk at ALM Media. He can be reached at fready@alm.com.

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