I just had a very successful family law trial using Zoom from five different locations. Trial using Zoom was not nearly as intimidating as I had feared. I was prepared and didn’t try to do things on the fly.
My first step was to make sure I understood the technology. I familiarized myself on how to display exhibits on my computer monitor so that the Judge, opposing counsel and the person testifying could see the exhibit. I used my mouse to highlight the spot on the exhibit where I wanted attention focused. Also, I kept my keyboard and mouse close by so that I could use the “Chat” and “Mute Audio” features so that I could converse with my client without anyone else seeing or hearing the content while the case was proceeding. My client felt he could whisper to me while being miles away.
Second, I prepared a List of Exhibits that I sent to the Judge in advance. Each Exhibit was numbered. If the Exhibit was something previously filed in court, I included the Docket Entry number for each Exhibit. When I presented an Exhibit to a witness, I referred to it by the Docket Entry number and by the number I had assigned it in my List of Exhibits. Then, when I moved the Exhibit into evidence, I asked the Judge to assign it a new number based upon the actual order in which I put the documents into evidence. By pre-arranging the Exhibits, I was able to tell the Judge where the document was on my List of Exhibits so it could be found quickly and without delaying trial. By referring to the Docket Entry number, the court also had a second means to identify the Exhibit and cross-reference it to the date it was originally filed, such as the date of a Financial Affidavit.
Third, I practiced with the witnesses (including the expert witness) and with my client. We can’t always avoid computer glitches, but by making sure that the witnesses and client knew how Zoom worked, and seeing documents on their computer screens, I was able to avoid interruptions in the flow of testimony and avoid asking the Judge for time to be sure everything was working properly. Also, by practicing, I was able to remind the witnesses and client to look at the web camera, to speak loudly enough to be heard, and to be careful about facial expressions and body language. Practice also gave me the chance to remind everyone about children, pets or other intrusions that could occur during trial and to be sure that such interruptions were avoided.
Fourth, I showed respect for the court and the judicial process by dressing appropriately and being sure my client and the witnesses were dressed appropriately. I warned them against eating and gum chewing that would be visible on the web camera. I treated trial by Zoom with the same attention to detail that I bring to in-person trials. I had a suit and tie on, my files were organized, and I made sure that any clutters I made as the trial progressed were pushed from camera view.
Fifth, I prepared for cross-examination. Without the ability to move about a courtroom, I felt cross-examination needed to be kept more tightly controlled. I put documents on the computer screen but did not allow cross-examination to be too free-wheeling or lengthy. I watched the Judge for any signs of disinterest or inattention.
Finally, I presented Closing Argument in a succinct manner. I submitted all case law upon which I intended to rely to the Judge in advance so I could spend more time applying the facts to the law than expounding on the law itself. I tried to be mindful of how long I was taking and watched for clues from the Judge’s expressions. It was actually easier to watch the Judge from the webcam in conference room than if I had been standing at a podium looking at notes.