President's Page: Time is Saved

Although COVID-19 has not been ideal for most things in life, it has improved and streamlined several things for the practice of law. COVID-19 has taught us and showed us that we were underutilizing the available technology. Several platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, etc., were available a year ago, but were not utilized to their full potential by many lawyers because we were too comfortable with the traditional ways of doing things. These technologies have improved and shortened many lawyers’ workdays and have made our lives and the administration of justice more efficient.

These technologies have shortened our workdays, or at least our commutes to court appearances, client meetings, CLEs, etc. I remember going for in-person court appearances for immigration cases that lasted 10 minutes, but the commute, waiting time, and going through security took 120 minutes. Most of the time, I brought other things to do during the wait, but I feel that now—with virtual or telephonic hearings—I am much more productive with the extra 110 minutes while I am working from home or the office. I really enjoyed bar association meetings and the social part of seeing my colleagues several times a month. However, sometimes the commute from meeting to meeting made it difficult to attend several meetings close to each other in time. Now, it is easier to attend different virtual social events and CLEs due to the same reason. In fact, the attendance for HCBA programs, which are now offered virtually, has been higher than prior years. I want to take this opportunity to encourage members to attend the upcoming Hennepin County Bar Foundation (HCBF) Bar Benefit, become a HCBF Fellow, and donate to the HCBF. With the current platforms, it is easy to jump from meeting to meeting given that there is no commute involved. I envision that we will have somewhat of a hybrid model in the future.

I also think that several parts of the legal process have improved due to COVID-19. For example, in criminal court, judges and prosecutors have encouraged me to have my clients plea by mail. I think in several cases that can be done effectively and improves the process. It also reduces the cost and time of litigation in general. The immigration courts are also implementing reducing the initial master calendar hearings and only have initial hearings when there are contested issues. In most cases, that would reduce the total time of litigation. Immigration cases can take several years to be resolved and in some circumstances the reason that a person qualifies for a relief is no longer there, or the beneficiaries that made a person eligible for a relief aged out due to the extended time for immigration cases to get to a final hearing.

Furthermore, our clients are getting more comfortable utilizing these technologies, increasing the reach of our client base. Immigration law is a federal practice field, so these technologies have made it possible for me to have consultations with people all over the United States and the world. I also think that people in Minnesota who are not close to the metro area now feel more comfortable having consultations and meetings over these platforms, making our potential reach bigger.

Of course, I cannot wait to see people in person and have some normalcy in our social lives. But at the end of the day, COVID-19 has brought several positive changes to the practice of law for the future. I am always amazed about the capacity of lawyers and human beings to adapt to difficult circumstances. I think we should make the best of the current situation and take the positives that this has brought to our practice.

By Esteban A. Rivera
2020-21 HCBA President

Esteban A. Rivera is an attorney licensed in Minnesota and Ecuador. He practices mainly immigration and international law with emphasis in Latin America. He practices investment, employment and family-based immigration law as well as removal defense. He is very active in the local legal community and the local bar associations.
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