As the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) rapidly spread throughout the United States during spring 2020, the civil justice system was forced to restructure almost overnight. COVID-19 led to unique challenges for court administrators and judges, who tried to find ways to serve litigants' continuing needs to have their disputes resolved in a fair, timely, and efficient manner while also taking important steps to protect the health of court staff, attorneys, witnesses, and the public. Some courts shut down completely; others repeatedly postponed trials and all but the most crucial in-person proceedings while essentially every jurisdiction moved into an unfamiliar world where masks and social distancing became the new normal. The pandemic also resulted in a seismic shift to remote online activity, with virtual appearances and hearings becoming an increasingly common event. Although some of these changes might be temporary, others could have long-lasting implications for the future of the civil justice system.
The RAND Institute for Civil Justice and the UC Berkeley Civil Justice Research Initiative hosted a virtual conference to discuss the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on the courts. The first panel of the day examined how the pandemic has affected civil juries, the second panel considered challenges for pretrial case management, and the third panel addressed implications that the pandemic might have for federal and state civil rules. During the final panel, speakers discussed lessons from the pandemic that could be applied to the civil justice system even after circumstances eventually return to "normal."