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The Power of Video Hearings: Empathy and Professionalism in the Digital Age

Oct. 16, 2023

Social Security Hearings have made significant transformations, made possible by technology. One of the most notable changes has been the shift from in-person court proceedings to remote hearings conducted via telephone or video conference. I have chosen to consistently opt for video hearings over telephone hearings. What drives my choice? Why do I feel that video hearings are not just a matter of preference but a professional responsibility? In this blog post, I'll delve into the importance of video hearings and the potential consequences of relying solely on telephone hearings. The idea for this post was suggested by a Judge in Houston, Texas, who pointed out to me that there are an alarming number of lawyers who are only doing court by telephone.

People are more empathetic when they can see the individuals they are dealing with. Visual cues create a human connection, which, in a courtroom context, can result in fairer judgments. Judges can empathize with the client's struggles, concerns, and emotions, which is crucial in delivering just outcomes.

When I appear in court, I know that attorneys are expected to be professionally dressed and their clients presentable. This not only demonstrates respect for the court but also signifies your commitment to the case and client. Telephone hearings do not offer the same level of accountability.

Lawyers who choose telephone hearings might do so because they find it more convenient and, frankly, easier. They can conduct these hearings from the comfort of their homes or offices, without the need to dress up or be presentable. Convenience should never take precedence over professionalism.

Moreover, the decision to conduct telephone hearings may inadvertently undermine the client's right to be seen and heard. It's essential to remember that, at the core of our legal system, there are real people facing real problems.

In a telephone hearing, much of the client's emotional expression and all body language are lost, making it challenging for the judge to fully grasp the client's perspective. This lack of visual cues may affect the judge's ability to empathize with the client and their situation. The client's rights to a fair hearing may be hindered by this limitation.

I had a hearing with a client who suffered from serious mental confusion. The case was before a Judge who is fair but tough. The client had long pauses after being asked fairly basic questions, and we had to re-ask some fairly straightforward questions in progressively simpler language. I know that if the hearing was by telephone the judge would most likely lost patience with the client, thinking that the client was not taking the hearing seriously, or was putting on an act. Because the judge could see the client; the judge stopped me in my examination of the client mid hearing, ended the hearing and paid the claim. That is a very dramatic example of a case that went 180 degrees different than how it would have had it been by phone. I promise you there are many more cases that are more subtle, but where being seen makes a real difference in the outcome for the client.

In conclusion, the choice between video and telephone hearings extends far beyond a matter of personal preference. Video hearings offer judges the ability to empathize with clients and make more informed decisions. They ensure that clients have the opportunity to be seen and heard.

It is my firm belief that attorneys have a professional responsibility to embrace video hearings whenever possible. Telephone hearings should only ever be used as a last resort and only with the client’s full informed consent and agreement.

As an attorney, my commitment remains steadfast – to pursue justice, represent my clients to the best of my abilities, and uphold the principles of empathy, professionalism, and accountability. Video hearings, in my opinion, are a crucial tool in fulfilling these responsibilities in the digital age of law.

My advice to you if you are thinking about hiring another Social Security disability lawyer, ask them how they would intend to conduct your hearing. If they say by telephone, say goodbye and find an attorney who will do your hearing by video so the judge can see you and you can see the judge.

The author is Peter B. Murphy, a Social Security disability attorney with over 25 years of experience. A graduate of Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, Washington and Lee University Law School in Lexington, Virginia. He presently represents clients in Social Security claims in Kansas, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, New York, Alabama, Michigan, Oklahoma, and in many other States. He is admitted to practice law in Tennessee and North Carolina but can represent Social Security Disability claimants in any state due to the Federal nature of the practice. He has appeared as an expert on many Television and Radio programs and has spoken as an instructor in continuing legal education courses for other attorneys and professionals. Contact to request a booking for Mr. Murphy for your program, pod cast or conference.