Friday, March 27, 2020

Court Web Conferencing Tips

In the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, we want to share some tips from more than twenty years using videoconferencing and web conferencing technology for presentations, technology development and support.  We begin:


1. Test, test, test – all following recommendations require testing just as we would do for software development programming.  Don’t assume that it will work with everyone every time.  Assume that it won’t work.  There are issues with multiple devices, operating systems, apps, and especially network capacity that can affect how things work.  Yesterday we learned that the private Arbitration Place Virtual e-hearings provide “Hearing Technology Specialists” – “who are trained to operate the hearing technology, so that counsel and the arbitrator(s) or mediator can focus solely on the case.”  We need a court version of this staff function.

2. Choose the platform.  We are very comfortable with issuing court rules as to what, when, and how attorneys and parties interact with the courts.  The same needs to be done for web conferencing with the court's selecting a paid, yes paid, system that the participants can learn how to use every time they virtually come to court.  It needs to be a paid service to receive all the benefits and support available when (not if) you run into issues. 

The paid services also have test capabilities that your users can access to make sure their side of the conference works.  This is key because the courts must rely on the parties to solve their connection issues when they arise.

3. Control.  The court must control all aspects of the web conference.  That means that the invitations with security passwords are issued by the court for the participants.  It also means that the court can turn on and off participant microphones/cameras and record and store the session. 

The court should also be in control of recording the hearing as the official record.  In turn, this means, there will be large recording files to save.  It is likely less expensively done by the court on their local servers.  And since it is also the official record of the proceeding, this local storage approach allows the record to be stored in the courthouse.

But for more on digital recording, especially if you have mixed environments, see this interesting announcement about Notewise from JAVS.
4. Configurations.  First audio.  The remote parties must use excellent microphones.  The microphones built into the laptops are simply not good enough.  There is an easy solution, your old mobile phone wired earbuds (although I have seen some good use of Bluetooth Apple iPods).  Once again, here is my top microphone recommendation

Next, lighting.  It is making me crazy watch web video of ceiling lights and dimly lit subjects.  Use an indirect light source such as an old fashion table lamp. But even better is direct lighting such as the Lume Cube Air that is sold through Apple. It creates a direct light source that you can mount on top of your laptop display or monitor.  Overhead florescent lighting isn’t good enough.

Third, dual monitors.  If you can, use your laptop screen for the web conference participation and a second monitor for documents and your presentation materials.  That way you don’t have to print things out or flip windows.  This allows the participants to be ready to show slides, photos, and other materials to the hearing.

Fourth, from Zoom but there are others, it is possible to use a little video magic to “touch up” your appearance. This utility will soften the image smooth out skin wrinkles.  Here is a YouTube video demo for this function

5. Video viewing.  In most instances, I recommend a quad (2x2) to view the participants for a formal conference and/or hearing.  Once you go smaller it is very hard to see the remote person even on a large second monitor.  That said, for committee meetings or even appellate conference meetings you can go smaller because one knows the participants.  This is where a ribbon display of the remote participants can also be used.
6. Private or Public conference.  Generally, the web conference should be an invitation-only, private, password-protected that is only given to the participants.  This is a feature of the paid services and avoids the embarrassing problem that a Skype hearing had many years ago.
One can use the calendar/invitation feature that is available from most web conferencing systems to implement this.

7. Chat.  This function can be very useful if there is a technical problem during the web conference, for example, the audio cutting out.  Again, the court should provide guidance on its usage to avoid extra-party communication. 

8.    One person controls the conference.  Judges control the hearings in the courtroom by calling on the person who will be speaking.  It should be no different in the web conference.  Period.

9. Remote language interpretation.  Several courts use web conferencing for language interpretation.  The interpreter needs to be shown in their own video window.  This is where one will likely need to go to a four+1 configuration (the speaker’s window enlarges in this interface) or more windows.  This is also something that you may wish to keep after the emergency as more and more languages are involved in our courts.

10. Check-in and Staging.  I really like the idea of the Zoom waiting room function. This allows the participants to gather for the next hearing while the previous hearing concludes.  This is also where the idea of the Hearing Technology Specialist or another clerk/registrar/judicial assistant (not necessarily in the courtroom) can help to facilitate preparation.  The prep stage can also test documents and slides with the participants to make sure everything is working properly.

11. E-signature (goes with E-filing).  Last, this is your chance to enable e-signatures in your court.  No one wants to wait for the paper / wet signature when the hearing and documents are electronic.  I have written about this so often here in the CTB that it is easier to just refer you to the subject column on the right to click on e-signature.

Last, here are some links to more good articles on this subject area.  Good luck!


  1. Thanks a million James, what a very useful and rich amount of information! Stay safe from Abu Dhabi , Hesham