On August 12, 2022, Chief Justice Heidi E. Brieger of the Massachusetts Superior Court adopted Superior Court Standing Order 1-22, effective September 1, 2022, which expanded the category of proceedings to be “presumptively” conducted virtually.
Since the Coronavirus pandemic began in 2020, the Superior Court has issued, rescinded, and updated numerous orders regarding the court’s operations and procedures in light of being unable to practice law in person. The necessity of virtual depositions, hearings, and even trials was created under the exigent circumstances of the pandemic; but now, the virtual practice of law may be here to stay.
What Categories of Hearings are Presumptively Virtual
Standing Order 1-22 rescinds and supersedes previous standing orders which took effect in 2020 and 2021. Now, Standing Order 1-22 establishes that hearings in criminal cases are presumptively held by virtual means for: bail hearings, bail reviews, hearings on G.L. c. 276, §58A, status and scheduling conferences, discovery conferences (including hearings on non-evidentiary motions), pretrial conferences, and probation status conferences. Hearings in civil cases are presumptively held virtually for: initial case management conferences, discovery disputes, scheduling conferences, final pretrial conferences, motions to dismiss, motions to amend, motions for default judgment, and motions to set aside default. Similarly, medical malpractice tribunals are presumptively held by videoconference.
Although, the presumption of a virtual setting for the aforementioned civil and criminal categories is not absolute. A judge may order that any hearing, even one designated as presumptively held by virtual means, must be in person if the judge so determines that it is necessary for fair and efficient resolution.
The new order also allows for “hybrid” proceedings where some participants appear in person while other participants appear via videoconference.
Lastly, regarding pro se litigants with limited access to virtual technology, the court will facilitate participation for videoconference or set up an alternative means of participation.
Virtual Practice of Law as the New Normal
Although the world is no longer in a pandemic, the new Massachusetts standing order indicates that practicing law may now regularly involve virtual elements. From an efficiency standpoint, attending hearings and conducting depositions virtually means being able to be “in many places at once.” Rather than traveling from courthouse to courthouse in one day, an attorney can now quickly transition from hearing to hearing, etc. via virtual means, allowing for a fuller day of client representation without the wasteful travel time.
For your convenience a complete copy of the Massachusetts Superior Court Order 1-22 has been linked here. Adler Pollock & Sheehan has seamlessly adapted to the virtual practice of law; please contact Adler Pollock & Sheehan for guidance navigating the practice of law in a post-pandemic world.