Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, MDK utilized technology to allow its employees across six states to work collaboratively. In March 2020, MDK chose to distribute its workforce out of an abundance of caution for the health of our staff. Due to our sustained emphasis on technology, MDK was primed for a smooth transition from a traditional in-office culture to a virtual work environment, capable of effectively managing large portfolios remotely.
The sudden shift to working in a virtual setting was not without challenges. Across the state of Illinois, the court system required more time to formulate a plan to process previously filed cases. While many courts had taken initial steps to incorporate technology to make appearances more accessible, such as Cook County’s Remote Video Pilot Program, the pandemic accelerated the need for immediate accessibility. MDK’s focus on a technologically-forward approach to the practice of law allowed us to pioneer video hearings across the state. We worked with judges and court administrators across Illinois to help institute remote hearing procedures – and to keep them uniform across jurisdictions.
The use of these remote hearings was expanded under the recently adopted Illinois Supreme Court Rule 45, which regulates all non-testimonial court appearances. Unlike Illinois Supreme Court Rule 241 (which also addresses civil testimony), good cause or meeting a hardship ceiling is not required under Rule 45. “New Rule 45 intentionally provides wider latitude for a court to conduct court proceedings remotely by allowing any case participant to request a remote appearance for any reason and by allowing a court to make that decision on its own even if no request has been made by a case participant [, and] . . . [t]he intent of this Rule is that remote appearances should be easy to request and liberally allowed.” Ill. Sup. Ct., R 45.
The benefits of remote hearings are many, and with few drawbacks. The Illinois court system’s implementation allows courts to operate during difficult times while complying with CDC guidelines, no matter the practice area. The benefits are exponentially higher for volume law practices, as attorneys can cover large geographic areas effectively. This has allowed MDK attorneys to build rapport with judges who previously may have only been familiar with our written work.
The courts are proving they have the technical capability to conduct hearings remotely, and judges seem eager to advance the cases on their docket. Given the benefits for all involved, the continuation of remote hearings and similar technologies appears likely.