Alumni in Action: Grant Buckner L’13 discusses how the courts are handling the pandemic

Like the scales of justice, courts have had to strike a balance between upholding their responsibilities and maintaining the safety of their constituents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As Administrative Counsel for the Supreme Court of North Carolina, Grant Buckner L’13 leads an office that reviews the Court’s opinions, disseminates rules of court and provides the Court with counsel on a host of matters. Little did he know when he began his position that some of those matters would be regarding a global pandemic.

Earlier this year, Elon Law highlighted the work Buckner is doing, and recently, we caught up with him to hear how his work has changed in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.

Navigating the delicate balance of maintaining safety within the courthouse and upholding the duty of the courts while working remotely with two young children at home has been quite the adjustment. Nevertheless, Buckner finds it very rewarding to serve as a member of an institution that then serves so many others.

How have the courts and judicial systems responded to the pandemic? How has it affected your work and how have you had to adjust?

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented our court system with a serious challenge.

Courts are an essential function of our society. Rights and obligations still exist during a pandemic, and it is the responsibility of the courts to adjudicate those rights and obligations. The challenge to the court system during this time has been to balance our responsibility to remain open with our responsibility to protect the health and well-being of everyone in our courthouses.

Since the pandemic began, I have been working closely with the Chief Justice’s Office in their effort to strike this balance. During an emergency, the law allows the Chief Justice to issue emergency directives to keep our courts going. It has been an honor to help Chief Justice Beasley in this regard.

Initially the task was to do our part to “flatten the curve.” This meant delaying those proceedings that could be delayed and implementing protective measures to reduce the spread of infections in courthouses. But, as our state has moved into a posture of reopening, the task has been to figure out how to continue the work of the courts safely. These tasks have not been easy, and there are many more challenges ahead.

On a personal note, I have had to adjust to working remotely with two small children at home. In some ways, the stress of what is going on has been reduced with my family so close to me. But in other ways, traditional boundaries of where work ends and where home begins have been blurred. I am thankful for a wonderful wife and for my coworkers who are helping me through this challenge.

Do you think there will be any long-term changes in your field that will remain in the future?

As I write this, the Supreme Court is in the midst of conducting remote oral arguments for the first time in its history. I predict that there will be a push for remote-work and remote-court options even after the pandemic has ceased. We have all learned that there are benefits to working remotely that cannot be ignored. The technology is there, and we need to capitalize on it moving forward.

In fact, the Judicial Branch was already moving in that direction before the pandemic began by planning the implementation of a statewide electronic-filing and case-management system. The pandemic has emphasized that we need to push projects like that forward.

What is one positive change you hope to see come out of this pandemic?

I hope that we all learn just how important community is. We are not made to be in isolation from one another. The pandemic has forced us apart, but in many respects, we were apart already. We took for granted the community of our coworkers, friends, and neighbors, and the joy it is to meet new people. When we all come together again, I hope that we make more of an effort to build relationships with those around us.