My First Successful Videoconference Trial (Zoom)

My First Successful Trial by Videoconference (Zoom)

Earlier this week Schorr Law had its first trial by videoconference in Merced County, California.  While our office has successfully used Zoom for numerous depositions and mediations, trial presented a great new opportunity to employ videoconferencing software.   I was excited for the opportunity and, to no surprise, it worked great.

As background, our firm takes many, many cases to trial.  Since 2018 we have now tried 19 cases.   This is a high number for civil attorneys.  So, when the pandemic hit, we worried how long it would be before we could flex our courtroom muscles.   Fortunately, after a temporary delay, we are back!

On the morning of trial, I did my normal trial preparation which now involved setting up my home office for trial.  The set up was not substantially different from counsel table – complete with my trial binder, witness list, exhibit lists, annotated electronic copies of all exhibits, and many evidentiary and legal cheat sheets.  My courtroom attire was no different – full suit and tie.  But, lighting was now a major consideration.   I spent time making sure that when the camera was on me, my face showed up clearly and not overly shadowed.

The trial itself involved a few moving parts.   The judge appeared on camera.  It was not entirely clear if the judge was actually in the courtroom or just on zoom.  It appeared that he had a virtual background so I was not sure where he was.   My clients, who were my only witnesses, appeared in the court room with face masks.

I delivered my opening statement, took witnesses, and made motions without issue.  Perhaps the hardest part of the presentation was the use of exhibits.  To plan ahead, we sent all of the exhibits to the courtroom attached as exhibits to the exhibit list.  Ordinarily, we bring exhibits on the day of trial or, in some cases, we provide them electronically to the court and counsel at trial.   Fortunately, the witnesses were able to see a computer monitor while they were in the courtroom.   For exhibit use, I tried to share my screen but that feature was disabled.   I asked the court for permission to display exhibits which the court then granted and asked the court clerk to take off the restrictions.

Here is my quick overall take on trial by videoconference:

The good things about doing trial by videoconference:

  • Cheaper trial with less travel time and less wait time
  • The ability to proceed without Covid-19 fears
  • The ability to represent a client anywhere in California with videoconferencing
  • A closer view of the judge. Normally in the court room the judge is pretty far from counsel table – videoconferencing is face to face.
  • The ability to set up counsel table – my office table – as I want and far in advance.
  • Unfettered access to my computer and the ability to communicate with co-counsel through the computer as trial proceeded.

The somewhat less than good:

  • Witness interaction. They were a bit far from the courtroom video monitor.  It was hard to see them and read facial expressions.
  • These were a bit clunky at first.   The simple solution is to allow the attorney presenting to screenshare.   Out of an abundance of caution, I asked to publish first.  Some simple rules like this would make the display of exhibits not terribly different than in a normal trial where counsel present exhibits through electronic displays.

As with any new court procedure and new technology, there are going to be drawbacks.  After all, we all know a zoom happy hour is not the same as an in-person happy hour.  For now, we are just happy to be back in court and back in trial.

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