Wear Pants and Be Patient: More Lessons from the Virtual Courtroom
With a year of pandemic-fueled work-from-home experience under our collective belts, you can now find numerous helpful guides and horror stories to help you prepare for remote hearings and trials. There are some basics everyone should know by now, like making sure your internet is reliable (ethernet > WIFI); knowing the court’s rules for virtual hearings; and wearing pants. But here are some additional lessons from the virtual trial trenches that will help set you up for success:
Measure Twice, Cut Once: Test Everything
- Test your software. Make sure your software is up-to-date, and do a trial run of every technical piece of your presentation. Pull up exhibits, share your screen, and download and test the virtual background if you’re using one. Make sure your audio and video are working, and if you’re using two screens (highly encouraged!), make sure you know how to toggle between them.
- Test your witnesses. Send your witnesses the necessary information to log in for their testimony, and make sure they know what rules apply and how the procedure will work. They may have to log into a “waiting room” first, so make sure you can contact them quickly in case it’s time to testify and they’ve walked away from their computer. When you prepare your witnesses, try to use the platform you’ll be using in court—this will help you and them feel more comfortable, and it can alert you to potential issues like poor internet connectivity or less-than-ideal backgrounds.
- Test yourself. Do a test call with a friend to see how you look and sound. Are you looking at the camera or off into the distance? If you’re using a greenscreen, does that blue shirt become part of the background? Are you too far or too close to the camera, making you look really small or large? Is anything on camera that shouldn’t be?
- Trust the professionals. If you have access to an IT department and paralegals, use them! They know more than you about how to resolve software issues, and you should be focused on pinning down the witness, not figuring out how to share your next exhibit.
“Be Sincere; Be Brief; Be Seated”: Go Forth and Try
- Set up a group text/chat. One benefit of virtual hearings is that you can communicate with co-counsel and paralegals during the hearing (make sure not to violate any rules, like communicating with a witness during testimony!). Set up a group text with the team beforehand so you can remind each other to move exhibits into evidence, send an exhibit number for reference, and keep updated on witnesses’ status, etc.
- Use slides, but take them down ASAP. Demonstratives can be very helpful for keeping people’s attention during a virtual hearing, and when questioning a witness, you will likely need to ask them about exhibits. Screen sharing is very effective, but remember to take down the visuals as soon as you can so everyone can focus on the speaker.
- Be patient. Court reporters already work tirelessly to get down everything verbatim, and virtual interruptions can be even trickier to navigate than in real life. So lean even more into the timeless advice of speaking slowly, pausing, and making sure others are done speaking before you jump in.
- Be flexible. No matter how much you prepare, issues will arise. From the small (“Counsel, you’re on mute”) to the large (“Court’s indulgence while I remove this cat filter”), you’ll need to roll with it. Try to have redundancies in place where you can (e.g., save backups locally), but if the unexpected happens, ask for a brief recess to resolve the problem. Patience may be a virtue, but in remote trials it’s a virtual necessity.