The Remote Hearing Dilemma

The Remote Hearing Dilemma

What Just Happened?

Recently, the Royal Courts of Justice has announced that most if not all hearings in the Court of Appeal right down to High Courts will be conducted remotely as part of the UK legal systems contingency plan in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.[1]

What does this mean?

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, remote hearings are likely to continue to be the dominant method of hearings for all cases, not just for case management or short hearings. However, the digital transformation of this legal process has caused widespread challenges for lawyers who are struggling to adapt to the technology.

From blowing raspberries and sharing pornographic images, the UK court system in all levels have found bizarre events taking place as a result of the actions of lawyers, the furry pets of these lawyers and spectators.[2]

On 2nd February 2021, a Swindon Town Court case was interrupted when 140 members of the public began showing pornography and screaming when the Court was dealing with the concerns of whether ‘the Robins’ is partially owned by premier league footballer Gareth Barry’s Agent, Michael Standing.[3] The Microsoft team meeting was labelled a ‘circus’ by one of the barristers. In response to this, Michael Pester, the Chancery division judge who oversaw the hearing was left with the ultimatum to exclude spectators so that only the representatives of the parties can attend. [4]

However, it is not just the UK legal sector that is finding it hard to become compliant with these virtual hearings.  Recently, there have been a number of virtual hearings that have gone wrong. For instances, in the US, a New Hampshire state senator, John Regan was unaware that he was unmuted during a remote hearing when he called a female colleague, Senator Sharon Carson, a vulgar name.[5] 

A person appeared naked over Zoom for her virtual hearing whilst another showed up to her remote court appearance while she was getting her hair down at the beauty parlour.  One particular lawyer could not remove a cat filter form his face during a virtual court hearing as a kitty was mimicking his words to the judge.[6]  While this may be funny to the public, experts believe that the remote hearings could prove to give an unfair advantage to large law firms that can provide their clients with computers, assistance in using these computers and stable internet connections. Smaller firms may not be able to offer this level of service to their clients. [7]

How does it affect the legal sector?

The remote hearings show a very strong indication that most law firms, lawyers and Courts are not ready to radically adopt technology in their operations. In this context, it shows how important it is to carry out a full digital transformation of the workplace to succeed in the post pandemic environment. If this contour is applied as the standard for the operations of businesses and law firms, their chances of succeeding in this market at present is increased.  

According to findings by Leonne International and Censuswide, a ‘third of UK businesses do not have the tech infrastructures to handle long-term remote working.’[8]  As such, many businesses that rely on face contact will either remain inactive in providing services for their clients or unable to meet deadlines due to a limited workforce. As such, businesses will lose out on money, and many will be left in a fragile state once the lockdown is over. This will pave the way for lots of opportunities for ‘corporate upheaval, takeovers, and strategic shifts.’. For instance, private equity firms may start buying ‘fundamentally sound but penniless suppliers in the various industry’ as it would be expected that demands will return from these suppliers.[9]  In retrospect, commercial law firms will shift focus on specialising in mergers, banking finance, and insolvency law to deal with these transactions, which will become prevalent towards the start of the year 2021. As such, it is expected that London law firms will be competing to stand out in the market and will invest on time and resources to train its lawyers and trainee solicitors to become an expert in one of these areas of law. 

On the other hand, some law firms will likely fail to recover from the aftermath of the outbreak. According to a survey made by PwC in 2018, technology is the most significant challenge facing the legal industry in 2019-2020.[10] This concedes belief that some high street firms that rely on face contact to operate their business will fail to survive in such climate as they do not have the technology nor the contingency plan to conduct its business or continue operating. Consequently, national and international law firms that use vast technology may also struggle to cope with the workload as essential software such as ‘Laserform and BigHand’ may not be accessible or work effectively for staff using work laptops at home. 


The Legists Content Team

Assessing firms:

#Allen&Overy #Ashurst #Baker&McKenzie #BryanCaveLeightonPaisner #Clyde&Co #CliffordChance #CMS #Dentons #DLAPiper #EvershedsSutherland #FreshfieldsBruckhausDeringer #HerbertSmithFreehills #HoganLovells #Kirkland&Ellis #Latham&Watkins #Linklaters #NortonRoseFulbright #PinsentMasons #Slaughter&May #White&Case


[1] HM Courts & Trubunals Service;

[2] Adam Mawardi, ‘High Court video hearing thrown into chao after intruder share pics of ‘well-endowed men’ (Legal Cheek, 4th February 2021)

[3] Tom Seaward, ‘Swindon Town court case interrupted by people showing pornography’ (Swindon Advertiser, 2nd February 2021)

[4] Tom Seaward, ‘Swindon Town court case interrupted by people showing pornography’ (Swindon Advertiser, 2nd February 2021)

[5] The Associated Press, ‘Unmuted NH Lawmaker Calls Colleague Vulgar Name During Remote Hearing’ (NBCBoston, 11th February 2021)

[6] Andrew Wolfson, ‘Cigars, beer and nudity: Virtual courtrooms have seen more wild moments than a cat filter mixup’ (USA Today News)

[7] Andrew Wolfson, ‘Think a court cat filter is weird? Try virtual court with beer, bikinis and clients in bed’ (Courier Journal)

[8] Michael Hill, ‘33% of UK Orgs Lack Tech Infrastructure for Long-Term Remote Working’ (Infosecurity Magazine)

[9] Less Globalisation, more tech: The changes covid-19 is forcing on to business’ (The Economist)

[10] Cat Rutter Pooley, ‘Lawyers’ next challenge: too much technology’ (The Financial Times)



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