New Zealand Law Society - Devices in courtroom

Devices in courtroom

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Directions for electronic casebooks are now the norm in the High Court. Many of us have now grasped working remotely, AV appearances, & electronic discovery. Despite this there continues to be a reluctance in the profession, not only from the bar, to lessen reliance on paper and commit to use of electronic tools in Court.

This article contains tips to encourage lawyers to make small changes in their practice to be more comfortable using devices for their appearances. Other topics such as setting up effective electronic files, demystifying electronic casebooks, and how to run a fully interactive electronic trial with witnesses, are vast and exceed the limits of this article. The NZ Bar Association and NZCLE run excellent workshops & seminars in these areas. I thank Phillip Cornege and Josh McBride for their presentations on these topics which greatly assisted me in preparing for my first electronic hearings.

The benefits of going paper-less are extensive. Devices can offer huge efficiencies to advocates in enabling entire cases to be transported to and from the Courtroom without East-lights and boxes, and immediate access to all relevant information and caselaw in word searchable format (or OCR for those in the know).

If you are ready to consider a shift from using paper in Court, here are some basic tips to get underway:

  1. Get comfortable using a portable device – laptop, tablet, whatever your OS. By now most of us are proficient in using a device in our home or office anyway. If you procure a new device, test it out with plenty of time before the hearing.
  2. Keep your device desktop clear and tidy, like you would a hot desk. Mute all sounds, turn off notifications, and email pop-ups. If you are clever you could set up a safe or blank profile which eliminates all such distractions. Change screen settings to disable sleep mode and screensavers to give you complete and instant control.
  3. Have your charger handy. You probably won’t need it - but the day you don’t have it the battery will go flat. Many courts have plugs in counsel’s tables.
  4. Keep your electronic file in a folder on a USB plugged into the device:
    1. Using a pen-drive means one less variable in Court. You will not need Court wifi to access your case. Finding the wifi password for counsel is also often the last thing that the Registrar wants to do right before the Judge enters the room.
    2. Using a USB on a device locally means you won’t need to jump through hoops to remote on to access your firm’s systems (unless you want/need to).
    3. If something disastrous happens you will still have your case on the USB which could be plugged into another device if you need to resort to plan B.
  5. Despite our best endeavours, invariably things do not always go to plan in Court. Remain calm. If you lose your place in a bundle, know that you can get to where you need to on a device in a few clicks (or a control F) and looks far more composed than when flapping through piles of paper bundles.
  6. The perfect place to start using a device in court is a list call or interlocutory hearing. Take a paper copy of the pleadings in your briefcase for insurance if you need it – at least you won’t waste a ream of paper. Although using devices and electronic casebooks are perfect for large trials with document heavy evidence, if you can, take the opportunity to master these skills in a smaller scale setting first where your screen isn’t being projected to the rest of the court room.

The Litigation Committee welcomes your feedback if there are particular educational areas you would like to see promoted in our legal community. For now, we challenge you to consider using a device for an upcoming appearance – you may even enjoy it!