Sometimes yes and sometimes no. We recently shared a post about how divorce proceedings in Florida have tended to take longer overall from filing to divorce during the pandemic, even though there are fewer in the court system. Let’s take a closer look at Zoom and other videoconferencing tools when used to conduct court hearings.
Positive aspects of virtual court hearings
Clients may save on legal costs since they are not paying for attorney travel time to and from court or for wait time until their turn before the judge. If the current public health crisis had developed even a decade ago, people trying to finalize divorces may have had no options for keeping their proceedings moving through the courts, so despite some issues, Zoom and similar platforms do provide solutions when people really want or need to finalize their divorces sooner rather than later. (And, people who find being in the same room with their exes highly stressful will not have to do that.)
For divorcing people with disabilities or illnesses, participating in court hearings from home can be a logistical relief that eliminates the challenge of traveling to and appearing in court.
Loss of face-to-face interaction
One casualty of virtual court proceedings is the power of in-person connection in court. Intangible aspects of human togetherness are missing from video contact like the energy in a room when people are physically present or the emotional connections people make through nonverbal expression such as eye contact, trembling and body language. It may be more difficult through video to convey a concept as persuasively or clearly as you might in person.
One Tennessee judge feels that she can better assess a witness through video because she can look straight at them and assess demeanor instead of looking at them from the side as is usual in a courtroom, according to an article about a judicial roundtable sponsored by the Tennessee Bar Association.
Issues with technology
An article in The Verge describes a lawyer who joined a video court appearance while framed with sunbeams from a computer-generated background that he did not know how to turn off. And many people have seen the iconic Zoom clip of the Texas court hearing wherein one lawyer had a filter turned on that transformed him into a talking cat.
These are examples of humorous situations created by a lack of technological fluency, but in most cases, trouble with the video technology is more run of the mill such as:
- Unstable Wi-Fi or problems with access
- Trouble with audio or muting
- Difficulties with video like camera access or placement
- Setting secure privacy settings correctly to prevent any third party from unauthorized or accidental access to very private proceedings
- Problems transmitting evidence and documents to court
Older people may have a harder time because they tend to be much less familiar with technology in general. Problems this creates with videoconferencing may raise their stress level, which can impact how they testify and whether they remember everything they wanted to say.
It will be interesting to see which aspects of virtual court proceedings Florida courts decide to continue to utilize when the public health crisis has passed.