Shortly after beginning articling, I was lucky enough to be assigned my first hearing. Not only was it my first solo hearing during my articling term, but it was also my first hearing to be conducted via Zoom in light of the recent move to online proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic. While Zoom and other video-conferencing forums detract from some aspects of the courtroom grandeur, they also add their own set of particularisms and rules to which articling students, lawyers, and clients alike need to be attuned, and there is no greater teacher than first-hand experience.
Due to the unpredictable and evolving nature of COVID-19, and the legal community’s steep learning curve in adapting to video conferencing technology, Courts and Tribunals alike provide memoranda and information bulletins with the most up-to-date procedure to be followed. It is important to make sure you read these instructions in advance of your hearing. They contain important information such as how materials should be filed, how to screen share documents during examinations, and how witnesses should conduct themselves during hearings. For example, although the hearing I participated in involved two witnesses who resided in the same household, they were still required to be on separate devices and in separate rooms while giving their testimony.
It is important to make sure that both you and your client familiarize yourselves with the applicable rules and test run the technology that you will be using during the hearing. However, you should also be prepared for when things do not go according to plan – and that goes for legal issues as well. For instance, we experienced a number of difficulties during my hearing: my client’s microphone suddenly stopped working in the middle of being examined, the opposing party disconnected from the call at some point, and my computer froze while I was attempting to answer the Vice Chair’s question as to why a certain exhibit was not hearsay and should, in fact, be entered into evidence.
While there may be the added variable of technological difficulties, the main takeaway from my first Zoom hearing applies to in-person appearances as well: prepare. Prepare to use unfamiliar technology, prepare your legal arguments, prepare to respond to questions from the judge, and most importantly, prepare to adapt to the situation when things don’t go according to plan. Though instituted as a response to the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom hearings may be here to stay. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the technology in advance of your first Zoom hearing, and prepare, prepare, prepare.