Clipped from: https://www.business-standard.com
But in serious cases, a lawyer arguing in person can be more persuasive
Even in future, only urgent matters may be picked for physical hearing while the rest may be dealt with online.
In a first of its kind case, a city court allowed a Delhi-based estranged couple to part ways through video conferencing. From virtual divorces to making wills and consulting lawyers for advice on retrenchment and layoff, the lockdown has unlocked many virtual solutions to real legal disputes.
Online legal consulting offers a battery of benefits. First, everyone saves on commute time, be it the lawyers or the parties involved. Second, only those actually involved in the case are present, unlike a courtroom, which is thronged by spectators.
ALSO READ: Shot of Hope: Tracking the race for Covid vaccine the world is waiting forSays corporate and policy lawyer Sumant Batra, managing partner, Kesar B Dass & Associates: “As happens abroad, now you only have those people sitting in the case who are directly involved with it, and nobody else. The proceedings are more disciplined as people don’t interrupt.” Third, with no physical appearance in court required and lawyers getting on a video call from their air-conditioned homes or offices, almost every one of them is willing to charge a lower fee (see table).
Choose online help carefully
Every well-known lawyer and those with professional law firms are today available for online legal consultation. If you are looking for a good lawyer, make sure you read the client reviews and testimonials on websites. Identify at least three potential attorneys before making your decision. Select the one who has the maximum experience in the field you are seeking advice on. Several legal portals are available to which people can send in their queries, like MyAdvo, Kaanoon, Lawtendo, Legistify, vakilsearch, Vidhikarya, licitGoLegal.
Rise in lockdown-specific cases
The lockdown has given rise to a number of legal issues. Rent waiver has become a major bone of contention between tenants and landlords. What happens if your tenant can’t pay you rent on time? Or if you are not able to pay the rent to your landlord? Legal experts say as long as you are using the premises, you have to pay rent. According to lawyer Sudip Mullick, partner, Khaitan & Co, “Chances of claiming force majeure are not there in residences where tenants are using the premises. But a tenant can appeal to his landlord to reduce the rent or defer the payment for a particular period if his earnings have been jeopardised. But this is only an appeal and not a matter of right.”
Some people have even been trying to use the force majeure provision to wriggle out of contracts. Says senior advocate Rajiv Bansal, who has represented Delhi Development Authority (DDA) as Senior Standing Counsel: “The clause has to be construed very strictly. If you have an agreement which defines force majeure, then you will be bound by the language of the clause.”
Retrenchment and layoffs are another big issue. “It is a fact that most company employment contracts are one-sided,” says Sonam Chandwani, managing partner, KS Legal & Associates. Chandwani recently offered her services pro bono (free of cost) on her LinkedIn account to many who have been laid off in recent times. People sent her copies of their original employment contracts. She reviewed and then offered advice. “When employees have retrenched in large numbers, they should fight as a group. Then the company will bend. A group has more power and financial muscle to appoint a lawyer. Ideally, two months’ salary is warranted but the least one can ask for is a notice period and a month’s com.
The Reserve Bank of India recently asked banks to provide a six-month moratorium on loans. Batra says a lot of loan-related queries have been coming his way. He clarifies: “This is not a loan waiver but only a deferment. Borrowers will have to repay the outstanding loan amount after the end of the moratorium period.”
The pandemic has made people realise the need to create a Will. Recently, a 40-year-old pilot based in Powai got his Will made. He says, “I travel frequently and the risk to my life is fairly high.” Cases of marital discord have also been rising during the lockdown. Victims of domestic violence should engage a lawyer to file a first information report. Says Chandwani: “We don’t take chances with such cases as there can be a threat to the victim’s life. We immediately file a complaint with the police. The latter summons the accused (the husband) to the police station, questions him, lets him off with a warning, and then does weekly follow up.”
There can be some downsides to the online route. A lawyer arguing in person can be more persuasive than over a video call. Says Batra: “Clients always prefer a physical hearing rather than a video hearing.” Mullick corroborates this, saying that cross-examining a witness in the presence of a judge and audience is not the same as doing the same over a camera. Virtual may be fine for consultation, but the courtroom is better for an actual hearing.
However, virtual legal consultation is here to stay. Even in future, only urgent matters may be picked for physical hearing while the rest may be dealt with online.