COVID 19 quarantines and social distancing have upset every single part of our lives, and litigation in Colombia has definitely not been the exception.
Prior to the pandemic, digitization was a goal for the future, and optimists believed we would eventually reach some levels of virtuality by 2030. People needed their problems solved: this is why justice is an essential part of a civilized society. In light of this, Decree 806 of 2020 forced us to transform our old school justice system into a virtual system and was warmly welcomed by the legal community.
After several months of filing lawsuits and requests for preliminary injunctions through email, after several months of using Drive, OneDrive, and similar cloud storage, after working from home, preparing emails, and attending meetings via Zoom, Meet and other similar platforms, we are still adapting to this new reality. However, we do have some preliminary takeaways for clients, colleagues, and courts.
Clients should be aware that they should increase document, organization, and storage in safe and easy-to-use formats. Size matters and having mammoth documents will make it difficult for them to be submitted before courts.
Clients should know that they can actively follow their attorney’s performance in hearings and filings. Their attendance to hearings is commonly allowed -although not required-, and they may review how their attorneys speak, handle difficult issues, and whether they have prepared or not.
Colleagues should keep in mind that digital clocks are not harmonized, so it is common for Judges to enter either before or after the scheduled time. Attorneys should be connecting 5 minutes before and should wait for court officials as long as possible. As an example, we just had a hearing two (2) hours behind schedule.
Colleagues should be aware that links granting access to hearing might fail. So you should reconfirm beforehand, and even at the scheduled time if the link does not work. It is common for attorneys to call their counterparts to see if they too had a problem connecting.
Attorneys should prepare slides and share screens. Although that was not common and not necessarily advisable during in-person hearings, it is now of great use to keep the court’s attention and organize your presentations.
Courts should be aware of the fact that the Internet fails, connections are sometimes lousy, and some attorneys and parties might not be tech-savvy and often struggle with a most simple task. So patience is the trendy virtue.
So, how is litigation being handled at the moment in Colombia?
All filings are being done through email.
Some courts do not allow filings using cloud computing.
Some courts are applying a closing time, so any submission that is done after a set time is considered the next business day.
Hearings are being held through Zoom, Meet, Teams, and similar systems
Complete virtual files are not always available, so parties should have their own copies at hand and confirm that the court has the same information.
A camera is required to always be on, so good bandwidth is crucial. We always have multiple devices connected just in case one fails.
Keeping the usual Dress Code is advisable. Some judges expect it and it is still a custom in the Colombian litigation environment.