This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee.
Virtual hearings have famously turned out to be a blessing for younger lawyers in India.
How is that?
So much so, I am afraid that a lot of them are probably going to revolt if and when there is an attempt to revert to the old mechanisms to the exclusion of online filing and hearing systems we are using today.
In Webex, seniors cannot speak over you
Junior advocates often faced a lot of hostility and difficulty in making their points. It was common for Senior Advocates to pass snide remarks and obstruct them from properly making an argument by speaking over them. Unwritten rules of the bar require that juniors do not interrupt or speak over senior lawyers, while senior lawyers often freely do exactly that. If it is a shouting match between you and a senior lawyer, it is easy to guess who the judge pays more attention to.
In the online mode, especially in Webex, only one person can be heard at a time. If two lawyers begin to speak at the same time, none can be heard or understood at all. It is surely not a pre-planned feature, but junior lawyers are reporting that this is working very well for them. At least while it is their turn, they can finish making their submission as the senior cannot interrupt much.
Judges are hearing younger lawyers more patiently
Junior lawyers are also reporting that they are being heard with more patience and being allowed to finish their submission properly as far as judges are concerned.
What could be the reason?
- Perhaps it is because there are fewer matters to hear. Judges seem to be a lot more relaxed and since they are hearing only urgent matters, they are ready to extend enough time to young lawyers to make their points.
- Judges perhaps also don’t have to worry about public perception as arguments are not happening in crowded open courts. Giving a senior advocate more space and deference at the cost of junior lawyers is part of the culture in many of our courts, but it seems to be different in virtual courts.
- Virtual courts have been friendlier and more relaxed. You can see all the lawyers’ offices in the background. As lawyers, clients and judges are not spending a lot of time in crowded courtrooms, and mostly operating from the relative comfort of their chambers and private offices, they are probably under far less pressure and physical discomfort. This could be another reason why junior lawyers are getting better treatment in virtual courts.
Lack of audience is a turn off for many senior advocates but it’s less intimidating for junior lawyers
Many senior advocates thrive on the fact they have an audience. They are also allowed a lot of leeway by courts as they can engage in banter and linguistic flourish and even flamboyant and dramatic body language that will never be appreciated if a junior lawyer tried to pull off the same.
In virtual courtrooms, scope for all that dramatization and thriving on energy of an appreciative crowd is missing. So it is a turn off for many seniors. On the other hand, such crowded courtrooms can be very intimidating for younger lawyers. Many of them have been traumatized by harsh comments and insulting insinuations from the bench or other lawyers across the aisle, and facing those comments before a crowd is no joke.
However, the virtual court appears to be a far safer space for most as there is no crowd.
Spending less time managing registry and filing
Senior lawyers usually have an army of juniors plus experienced and well-connected clerks to take care of everything at the registry or filing counter. This is always a huge disadvantage for relative newcomers. They are given the go-around until they can learn how things work.
Not anymore, as filing has become as simple as sending a mail or uploading a few files in a portal. At best, defects come back and you just cure them. And you can do all that super efficiently from home
You also don’t need a host of juniors to run around courts taking pass overs. You can appear seamlessly in one proceeding at a high court and then in the next 10 minutes appear in a tribunal that took a 2-hour drive in peak traffic when there was no virtual court. You can even appear in courts and tribunals in another state that is otherwise thousands of kilometers away!
This also means that you can appear in multiple courts so accepting matters is easier. For senior advocates, it is always easier to find matters concentrated in one court. For juniors, they would prefer to pick up whatever comes their way. And that has become far easier to do now.
Life has been never better for younger litigators trying to find their feet.
Seniors not getting as many passovers, making it easier to manage time for juniors
Imagine waiting for hours for a matter to be called, then not being heard because the senior advocate on the other side wants a pass over. Maybe you have to wait for more hours, maybe you have to accept a new date. Judges often oblige senior advocates with easy pass overs but they are rarely so kind to juniors.
However, in the age of virtual court, judges have not been as forthcoming in giving pass overs as they know lawyers can attend court from comfort of their own residence or chambers in any case. It is hard to justify a pass over. And this is working very well for junior lawyers because they can manage their time better.
What are the other pros and cons of virtual hearings?
Do you have any interesting stories or insights to share? Do you disagree with any of the points above? Do respond and let us know. Do you prefer virtual courts over the old system? Are you going to miss virtual courts if they are gone?
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