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At the annual Fall Section Meeting for Workers’ Compensation in Hershey last week, Workers’ Compensation Office of Adjudication Director, Joseph DeRita, informed those in attendance that 98% of events (hearings and mediations) have been virtual in 2022. While giving Judges discretion to hold in person events or via video, he seemed to recommend that we don’t go backward- but continue to hold hearings and mediations via Teams Video, noting that while it’s not perfect, it’s largely been working well.
I agree. Why waste time traveling ten plus hours on the roads many weeks, just to attend a hearing that may last five minutes- especially a quick status hearing where no testimony is being taken? Why put ourselves at risk on the roads when the Teams Video works great? Why put that extra burden on the environment with thousands of more vehicles on the road? (especially for injured workers, many of whom have difficulty getting around) For some situations, an “in person” hearing or mediation may be warranted- especially if a scar is being viewed. But by and large, the remote hearings and mediations are absolutely terrific and allow the attorneys more time to learn their cases, or to help more clients, or to market, etc. Lawyers who are raging against the new machine should learn how Teams works- you can share documents on there, type messages, etc. You may end up agreeing that this is the way forward once you get comfortable with all its tools.
Our Workers’ Compensation Section of the Bar has been a pioneer it seems with an impressive transition from live hearings to remote hearings- and there are no compelling reasons to go back to the dark ages and waste time in cattle call hearings, or stuck on 476 due to an accident. We just need to remember to keep our same professionalism- to dress appropriately (same goes for clients), to be on time, to avoid background noise, to try the video links ahead of time, to make sure the background picture is appropriate, and to treat the event with the same respect as if we were in person.