I have seen a lot of attorneys already blogging, writing, and making YouTube videos about Zoom. I’ve seen some great advice about the practicalities of having Zoom depositions, mediations, hearings, etc. I’ve seen great tips about good lighting, good camera angle, and good connection related to Zoom and other video conferencing platforms. In my opinion the legal community is ready to grasp hold of this “new” technology And I think that’s great.
Zoom and other video conferencing platforms are a great way to stop a lot of the bureaucracy, waste of time, and cost of travel to and from the courthouse for relatively mundane prove-ups, simple hearings, general appearances, and discovery issues. I think everyone realizes the extensive amount of time resources that are poorly utilized in simply showing up for short, routine matters. Now I think we’re starting to see some courts and judges who are just barely dipping their toe in, while others are ready to embrace more extensive usage of these platforms all the way to an actual jury trial. And with every pendulum shift, a lot of folks are very concerned about that pendulum swinging too far before the technology can catch up and that’s where I am at.
From the practical aspect of a jury trial via Zoom you have to consider the actual connectivity issues. I don’t think this is something we’re gonna be able to do from our home offices. I’m not saying that’s what the courts that are planning or saying do we need here, but connectivity is a real concern. Between my personal experience with multiple depositions and hearings, and talking to court reporters who are trying to transcribe these things, it’s a frequent occurrence that the connection causes you to miss part or all of what someone else is saying. Having to go back and repeat yourself loses the spontaneity and takes extra time. It’s also, quite frankly, annoying, and can cause the listeners to lose focus. Perhaps this isn’t a big deal on routine court appearances, but it can have a profound effect on something as important as a jury trial, when the parties are finally getting their day in court.
The only solution that I can think of is we wait for the technology to catch up. I myself live in a relatively rural area with satellite internet that’s not only unreliable, but also not much faster than old school dial-up. I’m not alone–there are vast numbers of people who don’t have access to fast, reliable broadband internet. This is causing a huge issue with schools having to operate remotely. And then you have the age gap, where a lot of folks just aren’t going to be capable or feel comfortable with engaging on a back and forth basis with an attorney, which is exactly what is required during the jury selection process. This doesn’t even begin to take into consideration the hardware that is required to run Zoom. Not everyone has a newer computer or smart phone that can run Zoom. We can’t send people out to go buy new phones so that we can call them up for jury duty.
The only work-around I can imagine is a scenario where everyone comes to the courthouse, but get their own separate room using technology set up by the courthouse. This is obviously going to require a lot more work, but trying to undertake something as important as a jury trial under the existing technology and infrastructure is nothing less than irresponsible. Either way, this is going to require profound infrastructure to have a secure, stable system for a jury trial. So for these reasons and many more, I think we have to apply the brakes on the sudden urge to embrace this technology for important issues like jury trials, sentencing, and even bench trials. A lot of weight, emotion, and communication comes from being there in person. Yes, that will push matters back and we don’t know yet how long it will be. But some things deserve the extra time and the extra care. As a wise attorney once told me, “lady justice wears a blindfold, not Nikes.”