How much has the coronavirus pandemic impacted proceedings in and out of court?
Much has changed since the novel coronavirus first began making headlines in 2019, and the legal field is certainly no exception. Given the difficulty of social distancing in the courtroom, the vast array of legal proceedings have shifted from in-person to remote using primarily the Zoom format. While no one could have accurately predicted the impact COVID-19 would have on the legal system (and society at large), it appears that remote proceedings using Zoom for hearings, trials, depositions and mediations—as well as meetings with clients and experts—are here to stay while the pandemic persists.
The reasons for this shift are varied. While the pandemic forced the closure of courthouses to the public, the courts adapted so cases could continue to be moved through the judicial system. Slowly, the courts and counsel adapted to using Zoom proceedings so that cases could be adjudicated without undue prejudice to all involved.
THE GOOD NEWS is, for routine matters, the time savings and convenience of a Zoom hearing is beneficial. Cost savings are achieved by having less travel and time consumed by attending proceedings in person at the courthouse.
THE LESS GOOD NEWS is that using Zoom for trials and/or depositions (where many documents are being introduced into evidence or as exhibits) makes the process more cumbersome. To adapt, the lawyers prepare and send out binders of documents to the litigants, witnesses, lawyers and the court so everyone can turn to the correct document when testimony is elicited from a witness.
For litigants to be certain not to miss the proceedings, it is wise to have the notice for the hearing or deposition readily available so you can timely dial in or log in to the proceedings. If it is for a hearing, you may need to wait until the court allows you access to the proceedings, so be patient. For depositions and some hearings, you may need your driver’s license to allow the court or the court reporter to accurately confirm your identity.
The remote Zoom format does, however, have its shortcomings. Some common examples include technical mishaps, unplugged laptops whose charge expires and the possibility of bandwidth or connectivity issues.
Counsel may find it difficult to keep the audience’s attention, invoke emotion or analyze non-verbal cues. Other issues include lack of attention, since some people may find it difficult to stare at a computer screen for an extended period of time. Others may not have the necessary equipment to participate.
However, what is most important is to understand these issues to maximize the effectiveness of the proceedings and do your best to be a good participant.
Tips to make your courtroom Zoom meeting successful:
• Treat remote Zoom proceedings as if you are in the courtroom
• Test your technology beforehand .
• Make sure to have your notice available for the proper Zoom hearing participant code information
• Ensure your laptop is plugged in
• Treat your appearance with the same formality as you would in an actual courtroom so dress appropriately
• Speak clearly and directly when prompted by counsel or the court
• Mute your microphone when not speaking and on all breaks
• Make sure documents are available for quick and easy access
• Let us know if you face any technological or access issues so we can work together with you and with our firm’s technology
• Limit background noise and avoid unwanted interruptions (e.g. ensure your cell phone is turned off or silenced)
• Make sure the backdrop area is well-lit and appropriate (as it will be displayed in the Zoom frame when you appear)
Finally, change is constant and we are adapting. Although some trials have recently returned to the in-person format, remote proceedings are likely to be the norm for other court proceedings. Just as telephonic hearings were used in the past, virtual Zoom hearings will likely continue in their place. By anticipating and avoiding the potential pitfalls with this technology, we can do our best to make Zoom proceedings a powerful and effective tool for advocacy.
For more information, please contact business and litagation attorneys Mary Fabre LeVine and Jonathan Tortorici at 941.748.0100 or email them at mlevine@blalockwalters and firstname.lastname@example.org.