Recently, several adventurous lawyers became the first to participate in an online jury trial in Miami. Thanks to them for publicly conducting this trial! Judge Beatrice Butchko presided, doing a wonderful job managing this experiment. The trial included a voir dire component which was conducted using Zoom. Judge Butchko, the court clerk, the court reporter and other court personnel were present in the (virtual) courtroom. All of the prospective jurors had the technology to participate in this session, some via laptops or tablets and a few on cellphones. We watched the recording of the voir dire session held with the prospective jurors so that we may provide advice to our clients regarding online voir dire. Following are some observations, many of which apply to any online meeting, hearing, deposition, mediation or arbitration.
First, it is important that everyone who participates in any online function control their virtual environment. This includes the location where one is positioned and the background. Lighting and camera position are important. In this trial, the two attorneys were seated for most of the voir dire. The background for one of the lawyers was cluttered; other people were visible and the fluorescent ceiling lights took up too much space on his screen. Our recommendation is to stand when speaking. Set the camera at eye level, using an external camera on a tripod or stand if necessary, and ensure that the background is clear and uncluttered. Overhead florescent lights cast shadows under the eyelids and chin and create color shifts because they are not typically daylight balanced. This means clothing, exhibits, and skin tone appear unnatural. If natural window light is present, appearances can degrade even further. Generally speaking, attorneys must consider the visual impression they create when viewed online. (Judge Butchko’s camera angle and background were perfect!)
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