“Remote trial via Zoom.” Prior to COVID-19, those words would never have been spoken. Typically, trials are regular and routine for most litigators. However, during this international pandemic, trying a case has become something completely new and different from what we have practiced since we passed the bar. It has imposed challenges to effectively provide for the safest and most effective way to advocate for our clients and to win the case. Predominantly, this has meant firms and attorneys – and the judiciary – have had to utilize various technologies and other methods of communication to appropriately prepare for and conduct trials. Coming fresh off of three separate COVID-19 remote trials, here are some tips that litigators should keep in mind:
Components of a Remote Trial
There are some similarities between practicing law pre-pandemic and during COVID-19, such as meticulously preparing for hearings and trials, communicating clearly, exchanging discovery, preparing witnesses, and maintaining exhibit lists. However, the key difference in the preparations and communication is that most of this work now is being done online from our homes, and we have had to figure out creative ways to conduct the same. The utilization of online tools such as Zoom has ensured that we can still meet with our clients, depose and prepare witnesses, and conduct final settlement conferences between attorneys prior to trial. Exhibits are now maintained and shared with counsel and the Court electronically rather than physically. (I have found that labeled subfolders, noting the exhibit name and number, on the computer are the way to go.) Remarkably, this method of practicing law seems to save time and, additionally, the expense of copy services.
Basics of Zoom for Trials
As with any remote communication tool, there has to be room for all parties to get acclimated and well-versed in the technology that will be used during hearings or trial. Some of the unique features of Zoom that can be used are the following:
Screen-sharing – the ability of a meeting presenter to broadcast her or his computer screen with the rest of the meeting participants. This can be vital in sharing notes and exhibits that are referenced during communications with clients or to the Court.
Breakout Rooms – the grouping of meeting attendees into smaller, private online meetings. This can be used in an effort to electronically separate clients or for the use of pretrial conferences.
Chat Box – this feature allows meeting participants to send written messages to all other meeting participants or to selected participants without verbally interrupting speakers. (I do recommend, however, using text messages with your clients to protect privilege and mistakes of who you are messaging.)
Mute button – the ability to silence sound coming from meeting participants, which I believe may be the judges’ favorite new tool!
Other Technologies for Trial
In addition to Zoom, attorneys have found GoogleDocs to be useful for trial work. On this platform, attorneys can prepare with clients or other counsel for hearings, depositions, or trial by simultaneously accessing and working on the same document electronically. While it certainly differs from face-to-face preparation work, this tool allows for real time edits, permitting efficiency during remote work constraints.
Although the wheels of justice may turn slowly, thanks to online technology, they did not come to a screeching halt during this pandemic. In fact, legal professionals have found many ways to leverage technology and successfully continue to communicate with and advocate for their clients. Looking to the future, it is important to remember that technology can be useful and even efficient at times. In addition to keeping up with the law, attorneys should strive to evolve with technological advancements so we can continue to help our clients to the best of our abilities.
About the Author
Erin M. Wilson is the founder of The Law Office of Erin M. Wilson LLC, which offers family law services in Cook County in Litigation, Mediation, Parenting Coordination, Child Representation & Guardian ad Litem.