I’ve participated in a few court hearings via Zoom and had my first contested Zoom hearing this week.
I understand the plan is for us to return to our courthouses when the coast is clear. But I suspect that Zoom hearings will continue to be used for some types of matters. I also think it’s possible, perhaps probable, that, in the future, video conference hearings will entirely replace in-person hearings.
There are things I would miss if that were to happen.
Part of going to court is waiting. Waiting in the courtroom, but also waiting in the hallway for your case to come up on the docket. As you stand around, you see people – mostly other lawyers. If you’re in your home court, you know most of them and the waiting provides a chance to catch up on local gossip and to say “hi” to old friends and acquaintances. It’s a social thing, like happy hour for litigators.
If you’re an out-of-towner, maybe you recognize someone, maybe you strike up a conversation with a local lawyer that you don’t know. You might chat about the judge or how things go in that court. Maybe you just watch and get a feel for the community and the local bar.
There’s none of that in Zoom hearings.
If that were to go away, I would certainly miss it.
Then there’s inside the courtroom.
The sharp dressed young lawyers. The comfortable, but professional, attire of the older lawyers.
The excitement and nervousness of the laypeople.
And all of those important but silent expressions of power and authority emanating from the wood, the symbols, and design of the space itself. The barrier between the area where the laypeople wait and the tables and podium at which the lawyers present their case, the jury area, the witness stand, and of course the elevated position from which the judge looks down on the proceeding, dressed all in black.
Powerful messages about government, law and justice.
Silent statements steeped in history and tradition.
In Zoom meetings, the judge is in a box on a screen like everyone else. The rest of the courtroom is indistinct.
I would be sad if all of that were lost.
Finally, at the end of every hearing, when the judge has issued his/her ruling, after the lawyers have thanked the Court for its time and wisdom, the record closes.
In Zoom hearings, the screen then goes blank.
But in a courtroom, something else happens. The lawyers from all sides approach one another and shake hands, share kind words, expressions of appreciation and support, before heading out to talk to their clients or get in their cars. In that minute, there is no gloating, no jibes about the case or what the court decided. Just small talk, the purpose of which, it seems, is to remind us that no matter how aggressively we advocate for our clients, our highest loyalty will always be to our profession – and each other.
I’m calling that the “snuggle time.”
And I think I’d miss that the most.