Publication | ThinkSet

Remote Hearings Are Here to Stay—Here Are the Pros and Cons

Anamaria Popescu and Daniel Ryan

September 16, 2021

New report details the psychological effects of remote hearings in the eyes of testifying experts, attorneys and psychologists.

“The expert witness on the other side was flirting with the arbitrator over Zoom, and I just thought to myself, ‘That’s it. We’re screwed.’”

Eighteen months ago, this anecdote would have been almost incomprehensible to lawyers, judges, expert witnesses and anyone else involved in court hearings. Flirting with an arbitrator over Zoom? What’s Zoom?

But now, like so many other aspects of our current moment, remote hearings are part of the “new normal”—and it’s widely accepted that they’re here to stay. Of course, that doesn’t mean virtual and in-person hearings do not have differences. In the story above, from an interview conducted for BRG’s new report on The Psychological Impact of Remote Hearings, we see how, removed from the courtroom setting, arbitrators and judges can be stripped of their positions of authority—making hearings more relaxed, difficult to police and vulnerable to undue influence.

Yet that’s only one potential impact. Broadly speaking, our report finds that the experience of remote hearings has been largely positive and negative psychological impacts won’t be enough to discourage their continued use. Everyone we interviewed acknowledged the new systems’ efficiencies, namely eliminating the time and cost of flying teams of experts around the world, the easy sharing of often large volumes of text and improved communication between legal teams that might be physically apart in an in-person setting. Data from the California chief justice’s pandemic workgroup points to even more benefits, showing that in cases where courts relied almost exclusively on remote hearings, clearance rates improved over pre-pandemic levels.

Still, given the myriad complexities at play and the fact that remote hearings won’t be going anywhere soon (if ever), it’s crucial that court participants consider their positive and negative psychological impacts. Daniel Ryan discusses some pros and cons as uncovered in our report.

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Daniel Ryan

Managing Director