Lawyers and the court system are notoriously behind the times when it comes to digital advances. In fact, it was as recently as 2016 that a mandate for e-filing of civil documents went into effect for less populated Texas counties.
The COVID pandemic shutdown brought the criminal justice system to a screeching halt. For many law firms, the severe impact on their operations will have lasting, permanent consequences. It’s been widely reported that thousands of businesses in the Austin area have permanently shuttered.
While we at Chambers & Associates did not predict the pandemic, we were prepared. Long before the pandemic, we made major investments in technology to modernize and revolutionize the practice and management of criminal defense law. These steps provided a foundation for an easy transition to the new world for practicing law. Staying on the digital cutting edge has long been part of our arsenal in how we fight for our clients.
Early adoption of cloud-based case management, utilization of smart data analysis systems, and integration of collaborative team software are some of the most prominent examples. Going digital over the last several years has brought numerous benefits to our clients during these difficult times:
1) Possibility of a quicker release from jail.
Between having direct access to judges through digital means as well as being an early adopter of digital signature software, we were able to speed the jail release process when others were completely shut out due to the closed jail system. Our systems are widely being used by judges and lawyers today.
2) Potential non-traditional community service options.
Our goal has always been to minimize the time-consuming community service and lengthy counseling programs. Due to COVID, we placed an even higher focus on limiting exposure through alternatives to in-person classes and community service restitution as well as working to resolve cases outside of the traditional courtroom.
3) More availability for conference calls with David Chambers.
Our clients now have a wider range of times available to them for phone meetings with David instead of trekking over to the office during the afternoon for in-person meetings.
4) Remote = more opportunities to safely help our clients around the clock.
Whether it’s texting, videoconferencing, or good old-fashioned calls we put our clients’ needs first while being able to work remotely. Our team never skips a beat when it comes to client and case updates thanks to a secure online “chatter” platform that ensures our whole team is on the same page regarding those vital phone conversations and developments.
5) Increasingly thorough communication with prosecutors.
The increase of socially distant conversation has proved to be beneficial as we have been able to utilize the higher level of control afforded by remote correspondence. These “digital conversations” have given us a better opportunity to explain the flaws in cases as well as the positive traits in our clients, which often results in a better outcome.
We also have been able to minimize the emotional fluctuations of a prosecutor that can sometimes color a conversation. Prosecutors are human and are subject to getting invested in an alleged victim’s perspective.
6) More Defense/Prosecution/Judge case-resolution meetings.
Our lawyers have directed hundreds of cases to resolutions and avoiding costly, risky trial by utilizing attorney/judge only Zoom conferences. These allow a forum where the judge can actually contribute to the negotiations in an effort to resolve cases.
7) And of course, your safety.
We are implementing every strategy possible to keep our clients safe by transitioning to remote meetings and preventing clients from coming into our office or going into court.
Your safety also means your data security. We utilize industry-leading data encryption by HIPPA compliant partners. It is vital to work with a law firm that started utilizing these modern business practices well before the chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic.
What’s on the horizon?
The Digital Trial
Though we are able to communicate through a number of applications, the evolving question that we’re actively preparing for is: “Will trials go virtual?”
This new question provokes a fascinating thought. Jurors are to remain unbiased, but how will they do that while information is readily available online? How will my lawyer be able to defend me during this time? Experimentations of trials are currently in process. Recently, the state of Texas held the first-ever virtual jury trial via Zoom right here in Travis County.
Since March, courts have had to postpone in-person proceedings. For those that could not be postponed, they have moved to a holding pattern on the virtual trial docket. The concept of a virtual trial is perplexing due to the amount of emotion that is used in making our case. Can jurors pick up on the emotional pleas offered by attorneys and witnesses? How can we read the emotional impact that testimony is having on jurors?
Another challenge with jurors is the vast technology divide amongst age groups. Many jurors are older and may not be technologically advanced enough to connect to a Zoom environment or another application that is being used for a virtual trial. Once connected, can they remain engaged like they would be in person?
As complications arise during this shift to virtuality in the courtroom, we must anticipate and plan in order to get the best results. You don’t want your case to be your lawyer’s learning ground.
Overcoming the Hurdles
Inescapably, the technological complications cause restrictions that must be addressed in the very near term. We have demonstrated that the virtual law firm can be just as productive or more than a traditional office. Our efforts and systems have laid the groundwork for other firms and we look to our friends for insight that they may have gained. It is vitally important to work with a law firm that started utilizing innovative digital business practices before the pandemic took over.
As working remotely becomes the new norm, we are discovering that, if executed properly, the new digital environments can offer opportunities. But one must not overlook or underestimate what is lost when not working collaboratively in person with your team. Working remotely can have a major negative impact on morale over the long term. Employee happiness and engagement is essential for long term results. We are taking measures to support our staff’s mental health and wellbeing as we transition to this new world,
At this time, the firms that have been able to remain open have had no choice but to go digital. For many, this is just the beginning for conforming to the virtual landscape. For a few, we’ve moved on to the next phase of norming and performing.
While COVID-19 is running rampant in jails and wreaking havoc on long-established systems, we are using our relationships with the judges and prosecutors to advocate smart, healthy case resolutions while developing plans and strategies to cope with what is to come.
It is more important than ever to work with a criminal defense attorney who focuses on keeping his clients safe and healthy while achieving the best results possible.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Austin, Texas, it’s important to hire a criminal defense lawyer that is prepared for anything and ahead of the game.
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David Chambers believes everyone deserves a second chance. That’s why he personally works on each defense case our firm handles. Don’t wait—fill out the form below to start your defense now!