When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, Illinois Courts scrambled to accommodate the inability to conduct in-person court appearances. The solution was Zoom. Hearings, trials, and status court appearances were all conducted through Zoom, and Zoom court quickly became the norm. Practitioners learned quickly how to work with Zoom and the remote court appearances were life changing in many ways. Not only did Zoom allow practitioners the opportunity and the flexibility to work from the comfort of their own home, but it allowed practitioners to cover multiple court appearances in different counties in one morning not to mention cutting out entire commute times and travel costs. The stress and anxiety of getting to court on time in the rain, sleet and snow became a thing of the past.
While Zoom has provided many advantages, there is one distinct disadvantage that appears to be growing. In the over 20 years that I have been practicing family law, my calendar has never been this packed with trials and contested hearings with no end in sight. Nothing seems to be settling and parties seem more agitated than ever. The courts are getting more and more back logged.
Perhaps the convenience of not having to get directions, drive to the courthouse, find a parking spot, take as much time off from work or find a babysitter has made the parties less likely to compromise. It is really easy to sit back in your own home and jump on the computer for a hearing or trial. The parties do not have to face their spouse, opposing counsel or the judge in person, they do not need to wait in long lines for the elevator or security, nor do they have to sit and wait for their case to be called in a large courtroom filled with strangers. Instead, they can sit in the comfort of their own home. The fear and stress of the court process seems to have been significantly diluted by Zoom. I think that the process of going through those steps of just even getting to court caused a lot of people to consider what they are doing and how long they could sustain going to court.
Fortunately, as COVID-19 seems to be subsiding, the courts are starting to find what I think is a great balance of holding trials and evidentiary hearings in person while the more routine and less contested court appearances are on Zoom. Hopefully, this hybrid approach will bring back a better balance to the system.