Videoconferencing, in one form or another, has been around for a long time, from experiments in the 1920s and 1930s to early phone videoconferencing in the 1970s. Videoconferencing hit the mass market with the webcam, of course. But it hasn’t been as widely used in law practice as you might expect, given the convenience and time-savings of remote meetings. For instance, I remember driving from Colorado Springs to Denver once as a junior attorney because a client wanted to Skype, and only one single conference room in the entire firm was set up with the capability to Skype.
In our practice at Telios Law, I’ve often used various forms of videoconferencing for client meetings. Many of our clients are in other states or other countries (and other time zones). I’ve tried a lot of different videoconferencing software, with various results.
Besides client meetings, videoconferences are also useful for a video deposition. While you will still probably want a court reporter, you can record the video call on Zoom by pressing a button. You can also screen-share very easily. When you click “screen-share,” Zoom pops up all the open documents and programs on your computer. You click one. It gets a little green light around it, and voila! The person on the other end can see what you are showing her.
Videoconferences are also useful for trial, if you need to use remote witnesses. While nothing beats in-person testimony, sometimes it is cost-prohibitive to have witnesses travel. And sometimes out-of-state witnesses don’t want to be there and you can’t make them. Practice pointer: be sure to file a motion to use videoconferencing as remote testimony well ahead of time.
We recently used Zoom at an administrative trial. Here are the lessons learned. If you are not in a thoroughly modern courtroom, you will need to bring a projector and screen to project the videoconference so everyone can see it. Projectors have dropped drastically in price and are much easier to use now—even I can use ours. Plus, you will want a projector anyway for TrialPad on your iPad.
If the courtroom does not have wireless access, you will at least need a strong cell phone signal. Then you can use a hotspot, like a Verizon MiFi. This worked quite well for us, since Zoom uses bandwidth efficiently.
Our first idea was to have multiple people on the call, two counsel and the witness, and maybe someone to show documents. But if two or more computers are in the same courtroom, you will have to play with the mute button to avoid feedback. Also, anytime anyone was talking (or made a noise), the screen switched to that person . . . awkward. Later, we learned that this is a feature called “active speaker” mode. You can also have a gallery view of everyone on the call at once, or or you can select one speaker manually. Our solution was to set up a computer dedicated just to the Zoom videoconference call at the podium, and the attorneys took turns using it for direct and cross-examination. To screen-share documents, we could have pulled up the documents on a flash drive.
Plan plenty of time, such as over a lunch break, to get everything set up right. It may take some playing with sound and video to make sure all the preferences are set up right for the equipment you are using. You will likely need additional speakers to project into the courtroom. Also, we found that the sound was much better if the witnesses used headphones and a mic.
The system will not work unless your witnesses have decent equipment on their side and know how to use it. Be sure to practice ahead of time. If you have any doubts about your witnesses’ tech skill and their equipment, it may be worth hiring someone on their side to be the tech person. This could be a local court reporting firm, or any tech-savvy student from the local community college or high school.
We found that Zoom works great with a little preparation and practice. And it lets witnesses testify in a way that is much more accessible and compelling than phone testimony.
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