Skype Hearings For Lawyers
As technology continues to evolve, so must the law. And as the law evolves so must the lawyer. Today, I conducted a minor settlement hearing without a minor…thanks to Skype.
Background on Minor Settlements
When a minor is injured due to the negligence of another, the legal process does not recognize a minor’s right to sue. A minor lacks legal capacity under the law to represent him or herself. As a result, a parent or other adult must step in and represent the rights of the minor in a “next of friend” capacity.
When a case settles, the legal system further protects the minor by appointing a guardian ad litem to review the settlement proposal and proposed distribution. The guardian ad litem answers only to the court. His/her job is to report back to the court and either recommend or advise the court against the settlement. The report is given through a procedure called a minor settlement hearing. The parent of the minor comes before the court and gives testimony in support of the settlement.
My Client’s Case and the Need for a Skype Hearing
In 2010, a lady and her 11-year-old daughter and were riding in a vehicle that was rear-ended at a stoplight. The minor required about $3,500.00 in medical care, mostly chiropractic care. The mother had more extensive injuries. Unfortunately, the other driver was insured by a shady automobile insurance carrier who refused to settle the claim until two years later. By the time the case settled, the family had moved out-of-state. Because the settlement was only $5,500.00, it made little sense to fly mom and the minor back to Texas to conduct the hearing. That is where Skype came in.
Appearing by Skype Video
I contacted my client, and she and I both downloaded the free version of Skype to our respective computers. We exchanged Skype identification information and then made contact via Skype. It was a learning experience for us both that required several independent texts and emails to coordinate, but we were eventually able to connect. Now we were ready for the real thing.
On the morning of the hearing, I went to Court an hour early. There I consulted with the court clerk and bailiff on how to access the internet. They gave me a guest password after I explained our plans. I plugged the information into my Skype account on my laptop and made a connection with my client from the conference room outside the Court. I waited there while the guardian ad litem sat in the courtroom awaiting our case to be called.
When the case was called, the guardian ad litem let me know. I approached the bench and placed my laptop on the judge’s bench and explained what we were doing. The court reporter then had my client raise her right hand and she was sworn in. After giving testimony, we concluded the hearing, and the settlement was approved.
Final Thoughts on Skype Hearings
The job of a lawyer is to best represent his client’s interests. In my case, learning how to use technology to save my client $2,000.00 in-flight expenses was the best thing I could do to help my client. If you are going to try this, I highly recommend learning in advance what the requirements are for accessing the internet at the specific court you are going to appear in. Some courts have very stringent application processes that may not be as flexible as the Harris County Court I was in. Also, be sure to do a test run before the day to make sure your system runs smoothly. Lastly, we found it beneficial to all stand next to the court reporter so that the laptop was facing the court reported during the hearing. This ensures that the court reporter can hear all of the testimony.