My Zoom Trial

Last week I had my first Zoom trial in state court.  It was a bench trial in a breach of contract case.  I worked from my home office.

What I liked.  Not getting up early to make sure that traffic would not make me late.  Not looking for parking.  Not hauling boxes and brief cases from the car to the courtroom.  Not going through security.  Not having my phone confiscated by security (some courts still do that).  Not searching for something to eat at the courthouse.  Not telling witnesses to wait in the hall before their turn to testify.  Looking up cases on my other computer during the trial.

What I missed.  Not being able to see the judge clearly (the camera was not close to him).  I could see everyone else clearly enough.

What made less difference than I anticipated.  I have heard lawyers say they would miss the opportunity to address witnesses face to face, especially in cross examination.  In this instance, that was not a problem.  Zoom showed the witnesses well enough to gauge their facial expressions.

What made it work.  The court held a pretrial conference, via Zoom, a few days before the trial, so the parties would know how to handle exhibits.  The court asked the parties to upload exhibits in pdf form to a file-sharing site before the trial, and to submit hard copy for the judge.  I submitted a few revised exhibits during the trial by email.  The judge’s staff was very helpful in receiving the pdfs and displaying them on Zoom.  I could have used the share screen function on Zoom to show documents but appreciated the staff’s assistance.  Without it, I probably would have needed a helper during the trial.  Organizing exhibits in advance is necessary in any trial but it is extra important in a Zoom trial.  I used two computers: one solely for the Zoom and the other for exhibits and research.  To give credit where credit is due, opposing counsel helped make the trial go smoothly by agreeing in advance to the admissibility of most of the exhibits.

What I would keep when we go back to in-person trials.  Courtroom technology permitting, I would use Zoom again to present out-of-state witnesses or non-core witnesses.  Appearing by Zoom could be worthy alternative to taking an out-of-state deposition and reading it into the record.  Even for local witnesses, a Zoom appearance could be preferable to requiring a witness to come to the courthouse and wait outside the courtroom to be called.  Of course, the witness needs a reliable internet connection and a computer with audio and video.  I doubt a phone would be sufficient, especially the witness needs to see an exhibit.  And I thought that using electronic copies of exhibits was better than lugging multiple copies of each exhibit to court.