Thompson G. Marsh American Inn of Court and Justice Sonia Sotomayor American Inn of Court
As the legal profession adjusts to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Thompson G. Marsh American Inn of Court and the Justice Sonia Sotomayor American Inn of Court, both in Denver, Colorado, put on a special program in June about how lawyers can navigate the virtual courtroom. The program, “COVID-19 and the Virtual Courtroom,” was hosted over Zoom and featured a distinguished panel of Colorado judges and practitioners, including Judge Sueanna P. Johnson of the Colorado Court of Appeals, Judge Russell B. Klein of the Jefferson County District Court, Judge Jay S. Grant of the City and County of Denver District Court, Judge Chantel Contiguglia of the Arapahoe County District Court, and Wadi Muhaisen, Esquire, of Muhaisen & Muhaisen, LLC. The panel was moderated by administrative law Judge Heidi Kutcher.
The panelists discussed their experiences transitioning to a virtual courtroom and gave Inn members some tips and tricks for appearing in court while on screen. Some suggestions included pausing after the last speaker finishes to account for any internet lag time and avoid speaking over another person, which protects the record and promotes civility. Another suggestion was to ask a witness who is testifying by video if he or she has papers in front of them to make sure the witness is not reading his or her testimony. They also recommended looking straight at the camera to simulate eye contact and create a human connection, and they stressed the importance of preparing clients and witnesses with how to use the technology before the hearing.
The panelists emphasized the continuing importance of professionalism in an attorney’s demeanor or appearance, and one judge discussed a lawyer who set up a podium at home for a virtual hearing, saying that even the subconscious association with being in court seemed to make a difference in the lawyer’s performance.
The program had a remarkable turnout, with numerous members from both Inns tuning in from their home offices. In the words of one panelist, professionalism and human connection is what lawyers do, and it is not lost even in a virtual setting.