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Courts & legal news weekly roundup 

This week’s highlights 

  • Pandemic spurred unprecedented revolution in state civil courts says new report
  • Los Angeles Superior Court expands online dispute resolution platform to eviction cases
  • Two national law firms announce a merger that will bring them into the Am Law 100
  • CA State Bar seizes online family law firm for “unauthorized law practice”
  • Legal news service sues Virginia for access to online court records

Pandemic spurs unprecedented revolution in state civil courts says new report 

“[Researchers] found that courts adopted technological tools at an unprecedented pace and scale, that they leveraged the new tools to increase litigant participation and improve efficiency, and that the changes disproportionally benefited litigants with legal representation and sometimes created new problems for those without lawyers.” (Pew

The civil courts adapted to new pandemic conditions with an unprecedented adoption of new court technologies, say researchers at the Pew Charitable Trusts. The finding is based on an analysis of more than 10,000 state and local court orders and interviews with court officials nationwide.

The team found that, during the pandemic, at least 10 states launch new electronic court filing initiatives, and 11 launched new e-notarization initiatives. They also note a dramatic increase in the number of online hearings. The full report is available on the Pew website.

Los Angeles Superior Court expands online dispute resolution platform to eviction cases 

“With the launch of this new remote assistance option, the Court is again expanding its free online options to help parties access justice without having to enter a courthouse.” (Los Angeles Superior Court

The country’s largest court system is expanding an online dispute resolution system it launched in the Spring so that it is now able to cover eviction cases. Litigants will be encouraged to utilize the entirely online service to freely settle their dispute without ever entering a courthouse.

According to reporting in the ABA Journal, Los Angeles is one of at least 89 courts that have turned to online dispute resolution in recent years “with the dual goals of strengthening access to justice for litigants and more efficiently processing cases.”

Two national law firms announce a merger that will bring them into the Am Law 100 

“Combined revenue of the law firms is more than $475 million, which would put ArentFox Schiff among the nation’s top 80 law firms, according to a fact sheet.” (ABA Journal

Arent Fox and Schiff Hardin announced this week that they will merge, effective March 1, creating a new national law firm with more than 600 attorneys and policy professionals. According to a press release, the new firm be known as ArentFox Schiff.

The merger will instantly propel the new firm into the Am Law 100 list of the highest grossing law firms. The new firm will have offices in Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

CA State Bar seizes online family law firm for “unauthorized law practice” 

“National Family Solutions sought to profit by promising vulnerable victims legal services it was not authorized to provide,” said George Cardona, chief trial counsel for the agency. “The State Bar is committed to shutting down businesses that persist in such practices.” (Santa Barbara Independent

California’s state bar association has seized the assets and files of an online family law advisory firm calling itself National Family Solutions. The Santa Barbara Independent reports that the company claimed to offer “low-cost” legal services to self-represented litigants and charged client’s flat fees in excess of $1,000 for access to a case manager.

The state bar alleges that neither of the firm’s owners are licensed to practice law in California and highlighted attempts to evade regulations “including the requirements for the use of trust accounts and prohibitions on taking unearned fees.”

Legal news service sues Virginia for access to online court records 

“Lawyers have remote access to court records in Virginia and Maryland, but the public does not, unlike most states and federal court.” (Washington Post

Courthouse News, a legal news service, is suing the state of Virginia in federal court in an effort to force the state to make online court records available to the public, and not just those parties directly involved in a case.

The Washington Post reports that 37 states and the District of Columbia allow the public to call up docket and actual legal filings online. Virginia, along with 12 other states, does not. The filing cites both First Amendment precedents that guarantee public access to the courts, and 14th Amendment rights ensuring equal protection for all.

Author

  • Richard Heinrich

    Richard is Vice President of Sales and Marketing at InfoTrack. He has worked with law firms for more than a decade to advise on adapting to regulatory and technological change. He writes about the courts, civil procedure, and developing trends that may affect law firm operations.