The Court Technology and Trial Presentation Blawg features articles, reviews and news of interest to lawyers and other legal professionals. This blog is published by Ted Brooks, a Trial Presentation and Legal Technology Consultant, Author and Speaker. Ted's trial experience includes the Los Angeles Dodgers divorce trial, People v. Robert Blake murder trial, and a hundreds of high profile, high value and complex civil matters.

All materials © Ted Brooks, unless otherwise indicated.

SOCIAL Twitter -- LinkedIn -- Facebook WEB PHONE 888-907-4434

Monday, July 11, 2022

The Online Courtroom: Hybrid and Remote Trial Considerations -- PART 3 (Look at Me!)


Bad Hair Day, Messy Hotel Room Day

NOTE: This series will cover what happened, how we've adjusted, where we are now, and where we're headed. We will also offer numerous tips, tricks, and best practices for hybrid and remote trials.

When is the last time you joined a Zoom meeting, only to realize the total disaster you were displaying to everyone? Maybe you're having a bad hair day, messy background day, or even a sun-suddenly-broke-through-the-clouds-and-started-blazing-in-through-the-window-directly-behind-you-as-soon-as-you-turned-on-your-webcam-day. Hey, things happen. But -- many of these little disasters are actually preventable.

You might already know there are settings you can use to allow or prevent your webcam from turning on automatically when you join a meeting. But what about when you're in a rush, or need to join from another device? Every remote meeting platform is different, but since we provide remote and hybrid trial hosting on the HIPAA-Compliant (extra security features) Zoom platform, we'll cover that one here.

So, let's say you have a Zoom invite, and when you click the link, you're fortunate enough to discover that the meeting has not yet started. Lucky you! You have a brief moment to check your settings before anyone else can watch you fumbling with it all.

Oh no! You can only check your computer audio! But what about the video settings? Although clicking on the above "Test Computer Audio" button will open to the audio settings, once you get there, you can also choose the video settings. Ideally, you should do all of these pre-checks before jumping out there naked in front of the world, but if you forget, at least now you'll have time to grab a shirt.

Now if you're not so lucky as to arrive early to the party, you can still preview your image before allowing everyone else to see. Hopefully, when you first join, your webcam will default to "off." If not, you can quickly hit the "Stop Video" button, which will be right where the "Start Video" button is shown above, both of which are located in the lower left corner with a laptop. This is in the upper right corner if you're on an iPad. "Choose Virtual Background" is one more quick and easy way to get to your video settings, without turning your webcam on outside of your own little preview.

Select the "Background & Effects" tab and you will then see a preview of what you will look like with or without a selected background, or you may choose "None." The good news with this is that you're the only one who gets to see how you're going to look, until you actually hit the "Start Video" button.

PRO TIP 1: Do NOT use "Mirror my Video." Although it may seem more natural to you, as if you're looking in a mirror, other viewers will see it that way as well. Anything showing text, or maybe something as mundane as a clock will become the primary focal point of everyone else in the meeting. Don't use it. Just don't.

PRO TIP 2: PLEASE DO NOT USE THE ZOOM-INCLUDED BACKGROUNDS. It was okay two years ago when we were all learning, but we are (or at least we in the legal profession definitely should be) well beyond this.

For those who would like to try all of this before your next Zoom appearance, feel free to try the link below, which we normally include in our Zoom meeting invites. You can download and update to the current version (yes, you really should do that) or just run a test meeting to see it all in action and make sure you're ready to go online.


IMPORTANT: We are hosting on the HIPAA-Compliant Zoom Platform, with enhanced encryption and security features.

1. Update to the current version of Zoom and log in with your FIRST and LAST NAME: 

2. Test your connection, camera, microphone, speakers. Check your lighting, and background:

For additional information on this and related topics, make sure to read "The Online Courtroom."

Sunday, July 3, 2022

The Online Courtroom: Hybrid and Remote Trial Considerations -- PART 2 (Lights, ___, Action)


NOTE: This series will cover what happened, how we've adjusted, where we are now, and where we're headed. We will also offer numerous tips, tricks, and best practices for hybrid and remote trials.

Cameras are the only new major component needed to enable hybrid trials, which have quickly become the most common format. With skyrocketing travel costs, it makes economic sense to have a witness appear remotely from another part of the country -- or even from another country. Even a daily commute can be avoided by many members of a trial team, allowing those back at the war room to watch everything as it is happening in the courtroom.

As we discussed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic (see Cameras in the Courtroom), hybrid trials are here to stay. Although many have struggled to make it work, we can and must attempt to develop successful techniques and best practices. Unfortunately, while everyone is now a Zoom expert, not everyone is actually doing much to replicate or enhance the courtroom trial experience.

In order to do so properly, it is not as simple as it might appear. Most attorneys have taken plenty of remote depositions by now, and most seem to actually prefer them over driving an hour or more, just to spend the day in some downtown law firm or court reporter's conference room. Court reporting agencies have made it even more convenient by developing exhibit sharing applications and mastering the Zoom platform. All you need to do is log on with your laptop, access your online exhibits, and tear into that deponent.

Trials are a little different than a deposition. And, there is still a strong desire to do trials in person, or at least partially. We've all seen a Zoom screen filled with images of so many people that it's difficult to even tell who's speaking. While that might be fine for a casual online get-together, or even a business meeting, it is not suitable for trial. In trial, everyone needs to remain focused on the witness, while also adding room for the judge and counsel. Fortunately, we have a solution for that -- dedicated Zoom cameras and laptops for the courtroom ("Zoom Kit"). 

Best Practice Tip: A typical setup will have just two cameras in the courtroom -- one focused on the witness and the Court, and another focused on counsel. This arrangement requires high-end remote-controlled cameras that will allow us to pan (left-to-right), tilt (up and down) and zoom in or out ("PTZ" webcams). Although you might be able to get by with simple non-PTZ webcams, this basic layout is recommended, and will require at least two dedicated Zoom laptops. As shown in the photo above, now viewers have only two views to concentrate on, or adding a third, if a remote witness is testifying. Although we have seen it happen, having a dozen laptop webcam views of individuals is not recommended as a best practice in trial. This technique will work with most any remote platform, including Zoom, MS Teams, WebEx, BlueJeans, etc. 

Different courts have different platforms available, however, we've found that when parties are willing to stipulate to a third-party hosting and handling all the technology for the trial, judges are willing and even supportive of allowing someone else take that responsibility off their plate.

For additional information on this and related topics, make sure to read "The Online Courtroom."