The Laptop Lawyer Class: A Threat to the Integrity of our Court System

The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to countless innovations, many of which have made our lives more convenient and efficient. However, one of these developments, the emergence of the “Laptop Lawyer Class”, poses significant challenges to the court system and may, in fact, be eroding the fundamental principles of our justice system. This new class of legal professionals conducts their court appearances online, largely from the comfort of their offices. While it may seem a matter of convenience, the implications are far-reaching and troubling.

To understand the gravity of the issue, one needs to reflect on Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55% Rule. According to this rule, communication is 7% verbal, 38% vocal (including tone of voice, inflection, and other sounds) and 55% non-verbal (body language) 1​. In the context of a court hearing, over half of the communication is through body language – a vital aspect of the court process that is inevitably lost in virtual hearings.

In fact, the very foundation of our justice system, as embodied in the 6th Amendment, underscores the importance of in-person hearings. The 6th Amendment guarantees the right of criminal defendants to confront their accusers, which includes being present at their trial and examining witnesses face-to-face. This amendment endorses in-person hearings as a prerequisite for a fair trial.

Virtual court hearings not only degrade the experience for all parties involved but also cheapen the entire process. The solemnity and gravitas that typically characterize a courtroom are reduced to mere pixels on a screen. This degradation extends to the roles of attorneys and judges, whose power and authority are diminished in a virtual setting. Lawyers are reduced to just another box on a screen, while judges preside over proceedings from their homes or offices, a far cry from the grandeur of a traditional courtroom.

The introduction of evidence and the process of making objections also become problematic in a virtual setting. In a traditional court, these procedures are clear and well-established, but online, they become muddled and less effective. The delicate dance of evidence presentation, the timely interjections of objections, and the immediate responses from the judge are all part of an intricate choreography that is lost in the virtual realm.

Moreover, the move towards virtual hearings could be seen as eroding faith and access to the court system. The court system, like any other institution, relies heavily on public trust. This trust is built on the perception of fairness, transparency, and the opportunity for every citizen to have their day in court. When hearings are relegated to screens, the perception of the court’s accessibility and fairness could be at risk.

While it’s understandable that lawyers and the courts have adapted to the convenience of virtual hearings in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s time to reassess. The idea of lawyers conducting hearing after hearing without leaving their offices may seem efficient, but it may also give rise to a breed of attorneys who may fear the real-life confrontations that come with in-person hearings.

Going back to in-person court hearings full time would preserve the sanctity of the courtroom and the justice system as a whole. It would allow for the full range of human communication, from the subtleties of body language to the nuances of voice modulation, and ensure that every citizen receives a fair and comprehensive hearing. It would reaffirm the power and authority of judges and attorneys, and uphold the importance of due process.

In conclusion, while the Laptop Lawyer Class has emerged as a consequence of our fast-paced, digital society, we must question its impact on the integrity of our court system. The pillars of our justice system – fairness, transparency, and due process – must not be compromised for the sake of convenience or efficiency. The courtroom is more than a venue; it is a symbol of justice, a testament to the rule of law, and a stage for the intricate dance of argument, objection, and judgment.

While we can’t deny the convenience that technology brings, we should also recognize that not all facets of our society should be forced to adapt to it. The courtroom is one such area where tradition and human interaction are integral to its function. The gravitas of a courtroom, the back-and-forth between attorneys, and the visible reactions of the judge and jury are aspects that cannot be fully replicated in a virtual environment.

Let us not degrade our legal process to mere convenience. Let us uphold the importance of the in-person hearing, recognizing that it is not merely a tradition, but a necessity for the fair and just operation of our legal system. The Laptop Lawyer Class might have been a necessary adaptation during a global pandemic, but as we strive towards a new normal, let us also strive to return to the principles and practices that uphold the integrity and dignity of our justice system.

The challenge before us is not just about returning to in-person hearings. It is about preserving the essence of our justice system, ensuring fair trials for all, and maintaining public trust in the courts. Let’s not allow convenience to compromise justice, and let’s remember that the courtroom, with all its complexities and imperfections, is still the best place for justice to be served.

Greg McIntyre
Estate Planning & Elder Law Attorney

Footnote: The footnote refers to Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55% Rule, as described on Toolshero. According to this rule, only 7% of what we communicate consists of the literal content of the message. The use of one’s voice, such as tone, intonation, and volume, accounts for 38% of communication. Finally, as much as 55% of communication consists of body language​1​.

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Greg McIntyre, JD, MBA

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Greg McIntyre, founder of McIntyre Elder Law, is more than just an attorney. As a Navy Veteran, father to six kids, and a loving husband, he values family deeply. This drives his commitment to helping clients safeguard their futures and pass down legacies.

Greg has a passion to help people. Beyond just legal advice, he loves having conversations and strives to build a long-term relationship with every clients that comes through his door.

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