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Law Practice Magazine

The Big Ideas Issue

Virtual Courtrooms: What to Know About Them

Clio

Summary

  • Learn how virtual courtrooms enable remote participation in legal proceedings using video conferencing and other technologies, improving accessibility and efficiency.
  • Discover how virtual courtrooms offer improved accessibility and cost savings but face technical issues and communication difficulties.
  • Ensure you understand the essential technologies needed for virtual courtrooms, including video conferencing and electronic filing.
Virtual Courtrooms: What to Know About Them
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The virtual courtroom is a recent innovation in the legal field, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, many courtrooms support video conferencing and other technologies for remote participation. But what is a virtual courtroom, why are attorneys embracing them, what technology is needed, and what best practices should attorneys follow? This guide addresses these questions.

What is a Virtual Courtroom?

A virtual courtroom enables legal proceedings to occur with one or more participants appearing remotely via video conferencing.

Benefits of Virtual Courtrooms

Virtual court proceedings kept many court proceedings moving during the COVID pandemic, but they still have many benefits even as the pandemic has receded.

Improved Accessibility

Virtual courtrooms enhance accessibility for attorneys and laypeople. Attorneys can appear in courts located far from their office without the need for travel, and non-attorneys face fewer barriers to participation, reducing failure-to-appear rates.

Time and Cost Savings

Virtual appearances eliminate travel time and expenses, allowing attorneys to participate in proceedings from a convenient location with a secure internet connection.

Enhanced Security and Confidentiality

Virtual courtrooms can be more secure and confidential. They can be easily closed to the public, which is crucial for sensitive cases like domestic violence, providing a safer environment for participants.

Effective Documentation

Virtual hearings can be recorded and transcribed, offering an additional layer of documentation. These recordings can be invaluable for reviewing testimony and proceedings, supplementing traditional transcripts.

Logistical Benefits for Courts

Automating many aspects of court hearings through virtual platforms reduces the workload for court staff, streamlining processes and making interactions between legal professionals and court personnel more efficient.

Challenges of Virtual Courtrooms

While virtual courtrooms have many advantages, it is best to also be aware of the potential drawbacks. 

Technical Issues

Technical problems, such as poor internet connections or unfamiliarity with software, can disrupt proceedings. Participants need to ensure they are comfortable with the technology and have access to support for troubleshooting. 

Security and Confidentiality Concerns

Ensuring that remote witnesses are not being coached or influenced is challenging. Courts must implement robust cybersecurity measures to prevent unauthorized access and maintain the integrity of proceedings.

Difficulties in Communication

Non-verbal cues and body language are harder to interpret over video. Miscommunication can occur if technical difficulties arise, such as audio issues or frozen screens. 

Virtual Courtroom Technology

Video conferencing is the most essential technology for conducting virtual court proceedings. Participants need to be able to  share and file documents electronically with the court. Additionally, proceedings must be transcribed and recorded.

Video Conferencing

Tools like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams are essential for virtual court proceedings. These platforms offer features such as muting participants, spotlighting speakers, and allowing participants to signal when they want to speak.

Document Sharing and Electronic Filing

Real-time document sharing is crucial, especially during witness examinations. Virtual court technology should support screen sharing and electronic court filing to facilitate seamless document handling during proceedings.

Transcription and Recording

Virtual proceedings benefit from easy video recording, supplementing traditional transcription by court reporters. These recordings provide valuable backups and aid in the review of court sessions.

Best Practices for Virtual Courtroom Proceedings

While virtual courtroom proceedings tend to go smoothly, there are some important best practices to remember if an attorney is accustomed to in-person hearings only.

Understand How Virtual Hearings Work

Familiarize yourself with the process, including how to access the hearing via a provided link or phone number. Ensure you have a reliable internet connection and understand the video conferencing platform used by the court.

Prepare for Your Appearance

Review the court's procedures and the participants' list. Conduct test runs with the video conferencing software to ensure your audio and video are functioning correctly. Ensure a professional setting for your virtual appearance.

Use Effective Communication and Proper Etiquette 

Be mindful of online communication challenges. Ensure your gestures are visible on screen, avoid talking over others, and minimize background noise. Dress appropriately and conduct yourself as if you were in a physical courtroom.

Manage Technical Challenges

Have a support person available for troubleshooting during the hearing. Use practice management software that integrates with video conferencing tools to ensure seamless participation.

Navigate Virtual Courtroom Hearings with Clio Manage

For an integrated solution to manage your law firm's technology and operations, consider Clio Manage. It seamlessly integrates with platforms like Zoom, ensuring smooth virtual court appearances. Schedule a free demo to see how Clio Manage can enhance your practice.