I think that we can all agree that the pandemic has been an awful experience. Besides the serious life & death issues, we have all had to deal with serious complications to our daily lives, such as kids not being able to go to school, business closures, masks, and product shortages.
Notwithstanding all of the disruption to our lives, there have been some minor bright spots. Being able to spend more time at home with our immediate family has been wonderful.
Since the earth had to keep spinning, the courts had to make adjustments to their operations in order to keep the business of the law going during Covid. In person filings of documents have modernized to internet uploads. Routine hearings have been altered to ex parte administrative hearings not requiring us to drive to the courthouse.
For our clients, the biggest change was in making most hearings virtual in nature. A couple of years ago, you would have had to secure transportation to downtown, suffer in rush hour traffic, pay outrageous prices for parking, go through airport style security, and wait in an uncomfortable courtroom for a routine court hearing. The pandemic changed all of that to Zoom hearings, or telephonic hearings, and to be perfectly honest, it was awesome for both lawyers and clients.
I recently had dinner with a Judge who said that his court staff want a return to in person court, but the clients and lawyers are not looking forward to life going back to the old style of court appearances. The Judge made a great point that (at least in the case of criminal hearings) the incidents of people failing to show up to court has been dramatically reduced by the virtual hearings, so they are considering making some of the changes permanent.
Regardless of our feelings, it appears that life is starting to go back to normal for other court operations.
In our jurisdiction, the Bankruptcy Court is returning to normal operations, and for the motions calendars, we will soon have to go back to live court appearances in front of the Judge.
When you file a Bankruptcy case, there is always one mandatory court appearance called a “341 Hearing”. For most people it is a fairly routine hearing, but it is an administrative nightmare to travel to downtown, negotiate traffic, pay for parking, and navigate long security lines, for such a simple hearing.
If you are on the fence about the timing of your Bankruptcy case, you might consider whether filing now (while court hearings are still virtual), as a factor on filing your case sooner rather than later. Remember that if court goes back to live hearings, you will likely have to take time off of work, and incur the expenses related to going to downtown for your court appearance.
I can tell you that ALL of my clients appreciated the virtual hearings over the live hearings. I did not have a single client that would have preferred to have a live court appearance. Every jurisdiction is different, and I hope that the Bankruptcy Court considers the advantages of the virtual 341 hearings, but I suspect that the Trustees (who run those hearings) found the process to be tedious, and they will want us all to go back to in-person court appearances.
For that reason, I would say that if there are no other factors related to filing your case now or later, it might be a good idea to check with your attorney to find out if hearings are still virtual, and filing your case while virtual hearings are still an option.
As for me, let's hope that I can still fit into my suits with my extra Covid weight.