Excerpt from “For Litigators, COVID-19 has changed everything” published in North Carolina Lawyers Weekly on March 25, 2020.
Mediations and more
A lot of mediations and other forms of dispute resolution have been placed on hold as well. Some insurance carriers are prohibiting their employees from traveling or attending mediations. Baynard said that he'd already had an arbitration cancelled because the arbitrator, who was in his seventies, felt uncomfortable and said he wasn't taking any chances and rescheduled.
On March 17, the North Carolina Dispute Resolution Commission pressed the point further, sending out a notice clarifying that DRC court-ordered mediations are included among the court proceedings that have been suspended by Chief Justice Cheri Beasley's order. As a result, the DRC strongly encouraged that all court-ordered mediations be held via electronic means for now. If all parties fail to provide their consent to conduct mediation via electronic means, the matter will be rescheduled after April 12.
Sara Lincoln of Lincoln Derr in Charlotte (which has implemented a firm-wide work-from-home policy) said that if cases do start to fall behind schedule, as some inevitably will, it's important to communicate proactively with clients, many of whom likely were not paying especially close attention to Beasley's order.
"Litigation in particular is especially stressful for the parties involved, and lawyers should be mindful about counseling their clients about these delays and try to decrease their stress levels about these delays," Lincoln said. "For cases scheduled for trial in 2021, hopefully we won't have to push back those dates. But for people with shorter scheduling orders, their clients are going to need some counseling about what this means for them. Litigation is stressful, and people want this to come to an end, and I think the wider public is not as aware as lawyers are about how the coronavirus is impacting the court system."
Another issue troubling attorneys is the potential for a backlog of cases to build up. Even with an extension of filing deadlines, new cases will continue to come into the system while existing ones are largely stuck unless they can be resolved amicably in mediation, which may become an increasingly attractive option. If the suspension is limited to 30 days, things may get resolved fairly quickly. But if, as seems very likely, the delay proves to be longer than that, things will get a lot more difficult.
"It's going to create a logjam of cases, especially on the civil side," Lincoln said. "It could impact us as long as two years."
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