In 2020, you learned to provide advocacy for your clients outside of the courtroom through use of online platforms. Conducting virtual trials and arbitrations has now become a common procedure. If you are looking for ways to improve the quality of your online proceeding, I have five pieces of advice to offer you.
1. Check Your Setup.
You don’t want any tech mishaps during your virtual proceeding. Take the time to prepare your setup so that everything goes off without a hitch. You will want an external monitor—or two—connected to your laptop. Use one screen to see all the participants and the other screen to show exhibits displayed on the screen share. A quality webcam is a must-have, ideally one with 1080p resolution. You will need clear audio too, and I recommend either headphones embedded with a microphone or a USB microphone attached to your computer. If you’re able to work from an office, turn a conference room into your “presentation room.” Set up a dedicated videoconference computer with a simple backdrop and have everyone examine witnesses there. Finally, a week or two before your proceedings begin, test out your equipment and software, and make sure all the features work for every party in the proceeding.
2. Get a Host.
If you want the smoothest virtual proceeding, you’ll need a host. Most courts have a host for online proceedings, but for arbitrations, the parties may need to find their own. All parties should agree on one neutral vendor to act as host. The host will then assign a technician to focus on connectivity, security, technical troubleshooting, and ensuring everything flows well. Having this agreement in place will alleviate virtually all of your potential technical problems.
3. Use a Hot Seat Operator.
As with an in-person hearing, a hot seat operator is vital when proceedings are virtual. The host and hot seat operator should not be the same person. This way, the hot seat operator can focus on pulling up exhibits, showing demonstratives, and running video clips, instead of on troubleshooting connectivity. You don’t need the hot seat operator with you physically in order to present evidence. Last year, I worked on a virtual arbitration; the host was in Florida, the attorneys were in Europe, and I was in the hot seat, presenting evidence from California—and it all worked perfectly.
4. Pick a Platform.
There are many video conference platforms available. Most courts are using Zoom, Webex, or Skype. However, if you are planning a virtual arbitration, you will likely have a choice. After using a number of platforms, my personal preference is Zoom. It is the industry standard, and for a good reason. It has a user-friendly interface and easy screen-sharing capabilities. Zoom is also highly secure. It has 256-bit TLS (Transport Layer Security) encryption, and all shared content can be encrypted. With these security measures, along with a meeting password and the waiting room enabled, you will have a secure meeting.
5. Focus on Details.
Practice makes perfect for a virtual proceeding. Examining witnesses over a virtual platform is an art form, so make sure you rehearse over a videoconference. Additionally, it’s critical to be prepared, especially when you are operating in a remote setting. Set up a messaging service such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, so your whole team can easily communicate in writing while your arbitration is in session. You don’t want messages popping up all the time when you are sharing your screen, so make sure you’ve turned off notifications or consider using a separate laptop for messaging with your team. Be prepared by making backups of all your important documents and have a backup laptop and a backup Wi-Fi provider, such as a cellular hot spot, in case the internet goes out while you’re in session.
Conducting your proceedings over a virtual platform can offer you so many benefits. First, it allows you to continue to serve the needs of your clients despite court closures. Second, it is allows you forgo travel expenses and spend more time at home. Who doesn’t want more time and money? Most importantly, when you put in place an expert team and follow the tips I’ve provided, virtual proceedings offer you a way to vigorously and effectively advocate for your client.