Best practices for Zoom legal proceedings
The stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders issued across the country have presented unique challenges in many forms. For lawyers, these challenges have required an industry that is resistant to change to adapt quickly and dramatically in order to continue to fulfill our obligations to our clients and the legal system. We commend judges, counsel, clients, those in the legal industry, and everyone else who is taking part in learning and mastering these virtual substitutes, for continuing to innovate and keep the wheels of justice moving.
One of the main reasons why Zoom seems to be such a popular video conference option is its cost-effectiveness. Zoom has a free option that provides a number of features, and its subscription service is relatively inexpensive (i.e. $149.90 for an annual, single license). In comparison, competitors such as GoToMeeting do not offer any type of free plan.
Installing Zoom is extremely easy and user-friendly. A web browser client is downloaded whenever you start or join your first Zoom meeting. On the Zoom website, any number of plugins or extensions can be installed so that Zoom can be run from applications such as Google Chrome, Microsoft Outlook, or Skype for Business. Zoom can also be run from a mobile device, such as a tablet or smartphone. As might be expected, running Zoom from a computer with a webcam or a laptop provides a richer experience over using it on a tablet or smartphone. A smartphone should only be used as a last resort. Here are three tips to improve your presentation.
In order to make sure you have high-quality video and audio, you will need a strong wired or WiFi connection, so you may need to experiment in different parts of your home to find the strongest signal. Attorneys should also try to find a quiet place where ambient noise will be at a minimum (think rooms with carpet or rugs and rooms with no echo). If available, using ear buds with a built-in microphone provides a better listening experience, reduces background noise and allows others to hear you better. With respect to lighting, you want the room to be well lit.
It is important to have a clean and professional looking background when engaging via Zoom. This is necessary for both depositions and court proceedings since deposition recordings may be introduced later during a hearing, and court proceedings are often livestreamed to YouTube or Facebook to ensure the public has access. You don’t want people thinking about what is going on behind you and not listening to what you have to say.
If you want to use a virtual background, you need to test it to see if the space you want to use will need a green screen. A cluttered background makes it difficult for the technology to differentiate you from what is behind and around you. In this situation, you will need a green screen to use a virtual background. The process of adding a virtual background is very easy and you can add anything you think would look the best. To help, we have created a photo gallery of professional, license-free images that you can download and use for yourself. Click here. We have also set out instructions on how to download and upload the images to your Zoom account.
Submitting and Presenting Documents
For court proceedings, each court will likely have its own rules about how to present documents. Some courts have used Dropbox to allow attorneys to share evidence, but many others prefer email. Be sure to call the Court prior to your hearing to determine how the Court handles the presentation of evidence. Some judges can manage the exhibits themselves and share their screen on Zoom when exhibits are used. If, on the other hand, you are required to present your exhibits, then you need to know how to share your computer screen and how to direct people’s attention to the parts you want.
When it comes to depositions, we suggest coordinating with the videographer beforehand so they can verify that they have high-quality, clean copies and that they will be able to zoom in on relevant portions of exhibits as needed. You should also familiarize yourself with Zoom’s ability to share your computer screen so you can present documents on the fly during the deposition.
After installing Zoom, users should test out the functions in Zoom by going through the various options and setting up a videoconference with a friend or colleague. When setting up this test, be sure to record the test session so you can go back and watch the test so that you will understand what others will see. You want to familiarize yourself with the basic functions such as different view options, mute, and chat. Depending on the device used and the form of Zoom interface, certain features may not be available. For instance, some devices may not have the video capabilities to utilize virtual backgrounds. Finally, attorneys should practice working with the different video and audio options, as well as how to use screen sharing and documents.
With these best practices in mind, combined with patience and learning from experience, Zoom can be a powerful tool to help courts and attorneys continue their important work.
About the Author: Graham Sutliff is the co-founder of Sutliff & Stout, Injury & Accident Law Firm. Graham is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law, and he has been actively trying personal injury cases for over fifteen years.