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Introduction

The Future of Courts

As courtrooms around the country embrace a new hybrid reality, judicial leaders are tasked with understanding how to use technology to improve experiences and increase access to justice. This guide explores the future of courts — offering industry insights and tips on how to build a courtroom designed for tomorrow.

Virtual court is in session

The paradigm for legal proceedings shifted entirely in the past year. As traditional, in-person processes went digital, state and local judiciaries found technology as a solution for continuity. Suddenly, proceedings conducted in a closed courtroom expanded to an accessible virtual realm, enabling greater attendance, reducing costs, and expediting information-sharing.

Now, as organizations everywhere prepare for the re-introduction of in-person activity, it’s important to examine how this digital transformation helped improve the justice system and which aspects of virtual collaboration should remain a permanent part of it.

In this guide, we’ll discuss what it takes to build a hybrid courtroom that incorporates both in-person and online aspects of court communications and business matters, ultimately improving public services for the better.

Lessons from an unprecedented time

2020’s events changed everything — how we worked, learned, and lived. Every sector experienced significant disruption, and the government was no exception. Federal, state, and local governments had to rapidly shift to online operations — no small feat for an industry known for its traditional — and occasionally dated — processes and technology.

For the justice system, this rapid digital transformation required more than just a virtual space to meet. Court staff needed to adopt technology that could create a secure, inclusive environment — one that people from every socioeconomic position could easily access and use. Moreover, judiciaries needed to leverage solutions that offered accessibility features designed to empower and include all walks of life. Enter: Zoom.

Through the adoption of Zoom, state and local courts not only enabled continuity, but found that the new format generated better outcomes and experiences. Suddenly, the courtroom became a more equitable place. Physical barriers and travel costs no longer mattered, cutting back on the thousands of dollars previously spent on litigations.

The courtroom also became a happier place — colorized by happier attendees, reduced tension, and more active participation from all parties.

“We’re seeing a lot of positive aspects in terms of access to justice. When it comes to adoption court, they have family member support over video and get to celebrate the adoption day with the entire family, which is a pretty important factor to see that love.”

Adam Lofredo, Director of Justice Division, Conference Technologies, Inc

“What we’ve seen in the [more than 25 virtual jury trials] we’ve had so far is that every one of those, there’s been increased participation. Usually, let’s say that a county has 40 percent of people show up for jury duty. With the virtual jury selection, we’ve seen that number actually increase, so, 60, 70, 80 percent participation.”

David Slayton, Administrative Director, Texas Office of Court Administration

Establishing a successful hybrid model

As the world embraces the next phase of work, organizations everywhere are looking at how to use a hybrid approach to better support employees and customers. For the justice system, leaders must determine if a hearing better serves constituents in a digital versus physical space.

For judicial leaders wondering where to begin, start by looking at what format promotes the best attendance, feels appropriate for the issue at hand, and serves the most people possible. For instance, administrative hearings are the perfect candidate for virtual hearings — a simple traffic ticket dispute warrants a quick session on Zoom.

Additionally, traditionally tense divorce proceedings can use virtual platforms to help with de-escalation, while family matter hearings could benefit from collaboration technology features — such as Zoom’s breakout rooms or virtual backgrounds — that help create a warmer, yet professional environment.

The benefits of a hybrid strategy extend to the court staff as well. Any time judicial leaders decide to conduct a virtual proceeding, they also save judges, attorneys, and interpreters time and money that would have otherwise been spent on attending an in-person session.

“If you look at it from the judge’s perspective, there are a lot who have to travel. We have a judge in west Texas who travels four hours each day. Now, of course, they can log on and have that hearing without the four hours of travel. If you look at it from the attorney’s perspective, many attorneys have to leave their office, go down to the courthouse, find parking, wait in the courtroom for maybe a couple of hours to get to their 15, 20-minute hearing. Obviously very costly to them as business owners and maybe not the best, efficient use of time.”

David Slayton, Administrative Director, Texas Office of Court Administration

Once you’ve determined which hearings will retain a remote component, it’s important to create a cohesive and inclusive courtroom environment, regardless of where participants are dialing in from. More on how to make that happen below.

Six tips for setting up your modern courtroom

A hybrid model may be new terrain, but it’s attainable with best practices in place. At Zoom, we strive to make an accessible platform with easy-to-use features that enable any member of the government sector, justice department, or wider public to use our platform to address their unique needs.

If you’re using the Zoom platform to set up your hybrid courtroom, here a few key tips to help create a courtroom experience designed for the future:

  1. Implement the necessary accessibility and interpretation features:

    For Zoom Meetings, we offer a handful of accessibility and interpretation features, as well as third-party configurations and integrations to help everyone experience our platform. To help create equitable access to justice for any foreign language speakers or participants with disabilities, judicial leaders should deploy manual closed captioning, integrations with third-party closed captioning services, or automatic closed captioning called Live Transcription. We also follow the latest accessibility standards to help make our solution fully accessible to the latest screen readers.

  2. Get the environment right:

    To reduce any perceived barriers between those at home and those in person, members of a courtroom can use Zoom Meeting features to create a level playing field across all participants. Ahead of a meeting, all participants can agree to deploy professional virtual backgrounds that create a consistent look and feel, as well as leverage Zoom’s background noise compression feature to reduce outside distractions and keep the focus on the hearing.

  3. Easily share information or present evidence:

    Depending on the meeting host’s settings, participants can share their screens or send links through the in-meeting chat to quickly present information or evidence. Participants can also leverage the whiteboarding feature for real-time interactive collaboration.

  4. Avoid overlap and interruptions:

    When litigation gets heated or participants engage in side chatter, meeting owners can take advantage of certain Zoom Meeting features to help manage the experience. Meeting hosts have the ability to mute participants upon entry, ask that participants use the Raise Hand feature to engage in conversation, disable in-meeting chat, and even spotlight or multi-pin certain attendees. These features can help maintain a professional and respectful environment, regardless of the current situation or sentiment in the room.

  5. Keep your courtroom secure:

    It’s important that only the intended participants attend a virtual courtroom meeting. Take advantage of Zoom’s many security features, such as the Waiting Room, passcodes, and the set of in-meeting security controls to help manage who enters and participates in the courtroom.

  6. Build a technology-enabled physical space:

    A hybrid courtroom isn’t possible without a technology-enabled office as well. While some workers will stay home, others will head back to the office — or spend their time between the two — and those in person will need a space where they can easily connect with remote employees, whether that’s fellow colleagues, lawyers, or members of the public. When building your modern courtroom, examine the type of hardware your office needs to work with a conference room solution like Zoom Rooms. Start by asking yourself, where do I need audio sources, cameras, and other necessary equipment in the room in order to create a seamless experience? From there, examine which Zoom partner provides the hardware you need to use our platform to create a complete hybrid experience.

“Kudos to Zoom for a great platform that's easy to use — clean interface, it's accessible on devices and it's just as easy to use. We wanted to [use Zoom to] create an experience for those folks that are virtual, as well as those that want to be in attendance physically within the courtroom and our model does that. It encompasses all of the audio equipment in the courtroom to create the same experience from a visual and audio perspective.”

Matthew Maierhofer, Assistant CIO, Fulton County Government

The verdict is in: hybrid is here to stay

Change is inevitable, but people will always adapt. As society braces for a new wave of living, working, and learning, it’s important to have the support and resources you need to remain agile and keep pace with the changes still ahead.

A hybrid approach isn’t a fleeting trend, but rather a new mandate to respond to the needs of today’s public — a public that’s facing a more diverse set of challenges than before, that’s finding new opportunities via the digital realm, that needs fair and just services. A hybrid courtroom strengthens citizens’ relationship with the law, turning a societal tradition into an engaging experience. Justice served.

Want to learn more?

To learn more about how Zoom can help your justice system achieve better outcomes, connect with one of our specialists today.