COVID-19 and Remote Court Arrangements: 30 tips for dealing with Virtual Hearings
by Andrew King
Courts have embraced technology in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and conducting court hearings and trials virtually through the use of Skype and Zoom is one of the ways the courts have adapted. Andrew King, who is the Head of our Dispute Resolution Department, provides his 30 tips to guide any attendee of a virtual or remote hearing – whether you may be a solicitor, advocate or witness. Andrew attended a 3-day remote trial himself earlier this month which was fully conducted through Skype, so he offers helpful tips to help you prepare for your upcoming Hearing.
1. Test your set up prior to the Hearing by holding conferences using the same software that will be used during the Hearing – Skype for Business may be used for the Hearing.
2. Schedule team/client conferences that will happen before, during and after the Hearing ahead of time. Agree on who will be responsible for setting up the calls, on what platform and during which times.
3. Set up a WhatsApp group for communicating with your client and the rest of the members of the team.
4. Set up a separate WhatsApp group for just the lawyers to communicate in.
5. Think carefully about who should be in any WhatsApp group. As an example, we had junior Counsel in both WhatsApp groups for use during Trial, and we had a third separate WhatsApp group that QC Counsel were in, which would be used at agreed times only to avoid distractions.
6. Name the WhatsApp groups in an obvious way and take care to check which group you are in before replying or messaging!
7. For multi-day Hearings, make sure you are early to the call each and every day, both in the morning and after the breaks. Do not become complacent about technology. Occasionally, a reset will be required in order to reconnect you, so give yourself extra time for this.
8. Plan what will happen if you ‘lose’ your advocate. When your advocate has lost his or her internet connection, someone needs to alert the advocate and Judge about this immediately. Have a plan in place to tackle this in case it does happen. The Judge may not realise that your advocate has lost his or her connection before you notice, so it is important that discussions are held about this issue prior to the start of the Hearing.
9. Open your eBundles before the video call starts. The Skype call will use your Wi-Fi bandwidth so you do not want to download heavy files from your Wi-Fi network after the Hearing starts. Close Outlook and anything you do not need access to.
10. The importance of multiple screens: Relying entirely on eBundles requires the use of more than one screen. It is essential that you have two screens, or preferably three screens in order to navigate through the Hearing. These screens can be your laptop, desktop or even tablet screens. One screen can be dedicated solely to viewing the remote Hearing and seeing the advocates, witnesses and Judge(s) whilst they speak. The second screen can be for navigating the Bundles and the other screen can be for any note-taking. If you have two screens, you can dedicate one screen solely to viewing the remote hearing and the speakers, whilst the other screen can be used to navigate the bundle and note-taking.
11. Consider where your camera is placed and which screen your Bundles are on. When making submissions or asking questions, you will want to be looking at the Judge to understand their body language and reactions. Where you decide to put your camera requires your careful consideration.
12. If using multiple PDFs, organise them in an obvious way, such as in a chronological sequence.
13. If you will be using hardcopy Bundles, organise them before the Hearing and know where each Bundle is so that you can readily access the documents.
14. ‘Pin’ the relevant people once the call is set up so you can see those you want to see, regardless of whether they are speaking or not. On Skype for Business, you can pin up to 5 people.
15. Pinning people needs setting up each day. Spend a couple of minutes to put people into the same order each day to help with your familiarity.
16. Mute your microphone at all times when you are not speaking.
17. If your microphone needs to be on, be conscious of any background noises that may be distracting to others.
18. If background noises may be an issue, wear headphones with a microphone to reduce them.
19. Ensure your mobile phone is on silent, particularly if your microphone will be turned on! The aim is to avoid any background noises and distractions.
20. Unless you’re the advocate for the Hearing, turn off your video.
21. If your video is on, remember that everyone is watching you all of the time, whether you are speaking or not.
22. Remember your background and think about what others will see behind you. The Judge in my case hung a white sheet over a bookcase to create a completely neutral background.
23. Be wary of your body language! Eye rolls, head shakes and similar body language are seen by the Judge no matter who is speaking. Remember that you are always on show if your camera is on and there is no hiding place during a Virtual Hearing.
24. Remember to turn off your video and mute your microphone during breaks and before dialling into a conference call with your client and legal team!
25. Dress for court. Your video may be off but this is still a court Hearing. Treat it as if you were physically in court. A Judge may want to see you at some point so do plan for that.
26. You can fuel yourself during the remote Hearing. Have drinks and snacks available as required.
27. The mid-morning and afternoon breaks are only 5 minutes long so do not plan anything significant for those breaks.
28. Get some fresh air in the lunch break. A virtual Hearing can be strangely tiring!
29. However tempting it may be, refrain from commenting on the Judge’s choice of clothing.
30. Refrain from commenting on anyone’s appearance for that matter. Remember, this is a court Hearing.
Lennons Solicitors is a full-service law firm based in Buckinghamshire, with offices in Chesham, Amersham and Beaconsfield. Andrew King is the head of our Dispute Resolution department. He is an experienced dispute resolution solicitor who has acted for individuals, as well as for businesses of all sizes. If you need assistance with your dispute, talk to us on 01494 773377 or email [email protected]