Courts across the country have begun to allow electronic signatures to be used in place of “wet” signatures since the social distancing required by COVID-19 makes it difficult, if not impossible, to obtain in-person signatures. As a result, the use of e-signature tools has increased significantly.
The COVID-19 pandemic has understandably resulted in an increased interest in the preparation of documents that require notarization. But the social distancing measures in effect obviously impact the ability to have the in-person notarization of the documents. That’s why some states have taken emergency action to enact remote notary rules that permit remote (or “virtual”) notarization via videoconferencing. California is one of the few states that do not yet allow this.
Another step forward for legal technology has been the acceptance of digital documents for court filings in lieu of paper documents. For years now, many courts have resisted the move toward all digital documents and have continued to require that paper documents be filed for many types of matters. COVID-19 is changing that since many courthouses and clerk’s offices have been forced to close their doors for the time being. As a result, many courts are revising their rules and allowing solely digital documents to be filed in matters that would have previously required paper document filings. This is now the standard in most California courts.
Likewise, social distancing and the resulting shift to digital documents by many courts necessitates that e-filing be permitted in lieu of in-person filing of pleadings. Accordingly, many courts now permit or even require e-filing in cases where it was not previously allowed. The California Supreme Court issued, then posted, an order in March 18th and subsequently posted the following notice to its e-filing website: “In light of the California Supreme Court’s [March 18, 2020] amendment of the ‘Supreme Court Rules Regarding Electronic Filing,’ rule 2, henceforth and until further notice, all documents (including briefs) must be filed electronically on the ‘TrueFiling’ platform, and paper copies should not be submitted …”
Court Hearings via Videoconference
Last, but not least, courts and legal professionals have embraced video conferencing en masse from the very start of the shelter-in-place requirements. Courts at all levels, from local courts to the highest court in the land, have begun to permit legal proceedings to move forward via video or teleconferencing. There are, however, exceptions, so be sure to check the website for each court.