The Virtual Legal World

Barrister Rebecca Keating raises some really good points about virtual hearings which are now becoming pretty standard and the future of an underresourced legal system forcing litigants down a path which will make it more uncomfortable than it is already.

Writing on the Society for Computers and Law website she makes the point that while courts have adapted during the pandemic, “the shift to virtual hearings does leave lots of room for improvement.”

Her main criticism is that we are trying to digitise a system that is already a hundred years old and that may not work. And she goes on:

“Care and thought should also be given to those who in fact find online courts to be less convenient and indeed more stressful because of the requirement to use technology. In the discussion around online courts many naturally suggest small disputes are the most suited, and I can of course appreciate why, to online resolution. However, these disputes in practice also involve some of the least legally supported litigants and those with the least technical support and assistance. Those individuals need to be considered.”

Solicitors, barristers and judges all have computers and/or laptops and to a greater or lesser extent are relatively comfortable with Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

But that isn’t everyone. What we can’t do is impose what we as lawyers think is ok on everyone else. Hearings are difficult and stressful at the best of times and turning them into virtual hearings runs the risk of making that much worse. It’s not ideal for the lawyers either, but there’s a “needs must” about it.

We also need to think about infrastructure (not least access to reliable and fast broadband) and security and that should all be before we start worrying about what we look like in online court proceedings. Which I suspect will become more and more of an issue.

There seems to be no end of people advising on the best set ups. The best cameras to use, the best microphones and my personal favourite, ring lights. Of which I had never heard until last year. Azeem Azhar helpfully put his set up on LinkedIn. Admittedly, he was talking about keynotes speeches, but court hearings are not a lot different. Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of the Ogilvy Group, put his impressive set up on Twitter and Tiago Forte, who provides online productivity training amongst other things, highlighted what he clearly thought is an ideal set up.

I am not saying that all lawyers and those appearing in online proceedings will have to do this, but we are just at the start of this move to online hearings and my sense is that everyone involved will have to start seeing themselves as “keynote” presenters, whether they are lawyers, witnesses or those doing the judging.

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