The Future of Courts – Hybrid and Virtual 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 create a courtroom designed for tomorrow.
01Virtual court is in session
02Lessons from a time of change
03Establishing a successful hybrid model
047 tips for setting up your modern courtroom
05A platform designed for judicial operations
06The verdict is in: hybrid is here to stay
Virtual court is in session
The paradigm for legal proceedings shifted entirely in the past few years. As traditional, in-person processes went digital, state, local, and federal judiciaries found technology to be 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 re-introduce 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 create 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 a time of change
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 institutions known for their 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, federal, state, and local courts not only enabled continuity but also found that the new format generated better experiences. Suddenly, the courtroom became a more equitable place. Physical barriers no longer mattered, reducing the costs previously spent to appear in court in person. The courtroom also became a happier place — colored 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.Learn More
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 AdministrationRead More
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 the public in a virtual or hybrid versus strictly physical space.
Judicial leaders wondering where to begin can 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 video technology to help with de-escalation, while family court hearings could benefit from collaboration technology features — such as breakout rooms or virtual backgrounds — that help create a warmer, yet professional environment.
The benefits of a hybrid strategy extend to 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 AdministrationRead More
Once you’ve determined which hearings will benefit from 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.
7 tips for setting up your modern courtroom
A hybrid model may be new terrain, but it’s attainable with best practices in place. Zoom offers an accessible platform with easy-to-use features that enable any member of the government, judiciary, or wider public to use our platform to address their unique needs.
If you’re using the Zoom platform to set up a hybrid courtroom, here are a few key tips to help create a courtroom experience designed for the future:
- 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 speakers of different languages or participants with disabilities, judicial workers can deploy our native auto-generated captions, manual closed captioning, or integrations with third-party closed captioning services. Auto-generated captions are currently available in 11 languages for commercial Zoom. We also follow the latest accessibility standards to help make our platform accessible to the latest screen readers.
- 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 for 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 suppression feature to reduce outside distractions and keep the focus on the hearing.
- 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. Parties can also leverage Zoom Whiteboard for real-time interactive collaboration and Zoom Team Chat to share any notes or documents after the hearing has ended. Evidentiary proceedings could also benefit from deploying the DocuSign eSignature for Zoom, a strategic integration currently available on commercial Zoom. Participants can securely share, review, and sign agreements through the eSignature app.
- Avoid overlap and interruptions: When things get heated or participants engage in side chatter, meeting owners can take advantage of certain 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 more. These features can help maintain a professional and respectful environment, regardless of the current situation or sentiment in the hearing.
- Highlight the right speakers: Make sure the right people are featured during a judicial session by deploying our spotlight view feature. This makes up to nine meeting participants the primary active speakers and the only speakers the other attendees will see — an effective way to keep eyes focused on the judge, defendant, plaintiff, or witness. Spotlight view can be used during screen sharing and can be enabled on the Zoom desktop client or mobile app, as well as in Zoom Rooms. Spotlight view is fully customizable and configurable by the admin too. Another option: Immersive View, which can be used to automatically or manually place participants into a virtual scene. Hosts can also easily move participants around a scene of their choice, such as a courtroom, and even resize a participant’s image for a more natural experience.
- Keep your courtroom secure: It’s important that only the intended participants are able to appear in a virtual courtroom. Take advantage of our many security features, such as the Waiting Room, passcodes, and in-meeting security controls to help manage who enters and participates in the meeting.
- Create a technology-enabled physical space: A hybrid courtroom isn’t possible without a technology-enabled office as well. While some court workers stay home, others are back in the office — or split their time between the two — and those in person will need a space where they can easily connect with those that are remote, whether that’s fellow colleagues, lawyers, and members of the public. When building your modern courtroom, examine the type of hardware needed 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 so many devices…Our audio feeds — both inbound and outbound — [connect] folks in the room and virtually so you have that same experience from a visual and audio standpoint.
Matthew Maierhofer, Assistant CIO, Fulton County Government Learn More
A platform designed for judicial operations
Tasked with providing effective justice for people around the country, today’s judicial organizations need an agile and advanced communications platform that enables meaningful service delivery and improves outcomes. Both Zoom and Zoom for Government are designed to help address these specific needs.
In the United States, Zoom offers a separate platform called Zoom for Government that is designed to conform to federal security requirements. Zoom for Government is available to U.S. federal, state, and local government customers, as well as approved government contractors, integrators, or educational institutions that support government customers. The Zoom for Government platform is U.S.-based and operated by U.S. persons only.
Zoom for Government delivers an intuitive and secure experience similar to commercial Zoom. Both versions of the platform are scalable and flexible, giving today’s public sector organizations what they need to achieve their goals while still helping to protect important information.
Zoom for Government has:
- Been authorized at the FedRAMP Moderate Level
- Received Provisional Authorization (PA) from the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) for the Department of Defense (DoD) at Impact Level 4 (IL4)
- Obtained an Authorization to Operate (ATO) from the Department of the Air Force for conducting IL4 meetings
- Achieved a StateRAMP Moderate authorization
The platform’s controls also support the following compliance requirements:
The verdict is in: hybrid is here to stay
Change is inevitable, but people will always adapt. As society braces for a new way 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 faces a more diverse set of challenges than before, finds new opportunities via the digital realm, and needs fair and just services. A hybrid courtroom strengthens the public’s relationship with the law, turning a societal tradition into an engaging experience. Justice served.
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