February 18, 2021 Law Practice Management & Technology

BlueJeans – Not Only for Casual Fridays Anymore

By: Maggie L. Anderson & Kayla Kratofil

Zoom, WebEx, BlueJeans. Sound familiar?

For many of us, these names meant nothing just a year ago. Now they have become the almost exclusive platforms for meetings with clients, conducting hearings and trials, and participation in mediation. With nearly a year of remote video conferencing under our belts, you would think we would have mastered the platforms by now.

Tell that to the Texas lawyer who participated in a Zoom hearing with an adorable kitten face filter dominating his screen. His claim of, “I’m here live, I’m not a cat” surely made most of us who have seen the video both cringe (from perhaps re-living our own nightmares) and laugh. I have also had a few mishaps with these platforms – mostly trouble with connecting, feedback and video quality. These issues can be highly distracting if you are not adequately prepared.

As I gear up for an upcoming multi-day custody trial, I have researched some practical advice for online Court appearances. Below are some helpful tips and deliberations for utilizing these platforms for trial and other hearings.

With nearly a year of remote video conferencing under our belts, you would think we would have mastered the platforms by now.

With nearly a year of remote video conferencing under our belts, you would think we would have mastered the platforms by now.

Credit: Anna Shvets via Pexels

1.      Prepare yourself

Ask ahead since jurisdictions have specific procedures for participation in remote hearings, and these guidelines can even change from Judge to Judge. Check their websites carefully – sometimes these “protocols” can be easy to miss if you aren’t familiar with the jurisdiction or Court website (trust me). Many Judges choose to put the information directly in a scheduling order or notice. If you can’t find the information online or in an order, ask the Court directly for guidance.

Make it easy for yourself, as trials can be tough under any circumstances. If you can, collaborate with opposing counsel to stipulate to as many exhibits as possible. Make your exhibits searchable, so they are easy to locate while questioning a witness. If you choose to electronically reference your exhibits, consider titling them with both the exhibit number and a description (e.g. Ex. 4 – 2019 Tax Return) to simplify finding these for yourself, opposing counsel, and the Court. 

2. Prepare your client

It seems obvious, right? Make sure they have the link or log-on information, the platform downloaded, and working video and audio. Many Judges expect a client’s video to be on; advise your client of proper Court attire and decorum.

Your client should speak slowly to overcome any delay and pause after questions to provide an opportunity for objections. It is even more important over video that witnesses speak clearly and give proper answers to questions. A Court Reporter cannot discern “uh huh” or nods for a proper record, especially over video.

3. Prepare the Court

Discuss with opposing counsel if you are wanting to take outside witnesses out of turn, and alert the Court to the same. Advise the Court whether you will have your client in your office or appearing from another computer. This affects bandwidth issues, audio feedback, and tells the Judge who to “let in” to the virtual room for the hearing.

Many Judges will allow you to share your exhibits on screen for everyone to see. This is particularly helpful if you are playing a video or referencing a specific part of a lengthy exhibit. Ask the Court ahead of time for permission to do so and inquire about the method, but proceed with caution.

4. Unique considerations

Be conscientious of screen sharing your exhibits. One Judge loves to recount his cautionary tale about sharing his screen with his “bench notes” still pulled up in view. All the parties on the video call were able to see his private, candid thoughts on the Respondent and his (lack of) credibility.

Credibility of a witness is infinitely more difficult for the fact finder to determine with remote testimony. Be mindful of body language. Does the witness appear to be testifying from a document not admitted into evidence? Is the witness looking away from the screen for a prompt to an answer? You may want to direct the Court’s attention to these matters if you have concerns about coaching or trial aids.

“In chambers” discussions with the Court or one-on-one talks with your client are nearly impossible on a multi-person video call. Many of these programs have the ability for the host to decide who is allowed in the room or to set up separate rooms for certain participants. These can be a useful resource for private communications with the Court or your client.

While video appearances are ideal for clients or witness who live out of town, the convenience of remote trial should not deter your settlement attempts. Do not fall complacent merely because a trial over a computer seems easier or more casual. In fact, these trials tend to be more difficult and present many challenges which in-person Court appearances do not.

Visit the program’s website or search YouTube for additional support and information. And please, do not forget to check your video for filters.

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    Maggie L. Anderson

    Esq., Kansas City, MO

    The Law Office of Maggie L. Anderson, LLC

    ABA Section of Family Law Law Practice Management & Technology Committee Vice-Chair

    Kayla Kratofil

    Esq., Kansas City, MO

    The Law Office of Maggie L. Anderson, LLC