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."
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