Not the End Yet

My internship at International Bridges to Justice is sadly coming to an end this week. From my project of putting together a learning module on the subject of "virtual advocacy in the time of Covid-19," I have learned a great deal in terms of how an attorney can better represent her client when the judicial proceedings are conducted virtually online.

Although the outbreak of a pandemic has caught people off guard, the trend of virtually conducting judicial proceedings is not entirely unexpected. Compared to other disciplines, the adoption of technological innovations in the judicial system might be relatively a delayed one but there is no doubt that such changes would arrive, sooner or later. If anything, Covid-19 has acted as a catalyst in accelerating those changes. But the real question is not when but how will this revolution take place. Will the jurors be able to understand the weight of their decision when they only be shown the defendant’s headshot on a screen? At law school, the professors taught us that the law is not only a rational and intelligent system of knowledge, but a discipline unique for its human impact. After all, even debates over the most pure legal issues will nevertheless have important implications in people’s lives.

In my research for IBJ, I have read a lot of guide on how to replicate the in-person experience of being in an actual court as if the defendant is physically present there via technology. But there is no doubt that a virtual trial will never be the same as an in-person one; just as human interactions via social medias would never be the same as actually meeting and talking to friends over a cup of coffee. In my judicial internship, the judge that I worked for told me an anecdote of a medical malpractice case where a juror had a sudden medical condition during trial and the allegedly malpracticed defendant-doctor, ironically, leapt to perform CPR on her in a heartbeat. As a result, a new trial had to be ordered since that jury was obviously biased from having witnessed the spontaneous“heroic” act done by the defendant. However, it is rather difficult to imagine an event like that taking place in a world of only virtual proceedings.

Nevertheless, there are certainly scenarios, such as a pandemic, where in-person participation in judicial proceedings is simply not possible. In those cases, the need for effective virtual advocacy becomes extremely crucial and relevant. And as lawyers, we should be informed and trained on how to better represent our clients when such condition arises. One thing for sure, the process of transitioning to virtual judicial proceedings will be an ongoing case requiring numerous necessary adjustments. As for how to approach these new issues in such an unknown territory, that will be both a challenge and an exciting opportunity for our generation of lawyers.