Brave New World: Cameras and the Local Courts

Futurists generally approach technology in one of two camps: Complete fear, certain that all new innovations are harbingers of doom; and child-like glee, with little thought of the long-term impact.  For those of us who have daily responsibilities that don’t generally include naval-gazing, technological advances must undergo a pragmatic approach: they either help us do our work or they do not.

The “Cameras in the Courtroom” debate has been around since at least the 80’s, but it is the affordability of the Internet, as opposed to complicated and more costly public access programming, that now makes broadcasts a reality.  Even Indiana’s own Court of Appeals and Supreme Court have been broadcasting oral arguments for several years.

Initial hearings in criminal cases are likely the fastest-growing segment of court-employed video conference in Indiana. As more rural counties build larger jail facilities, financial pressure often prevents expanding old jails near the courthouse.  As a consequence, jails are farther outside the county seats and video conferencing has helped many counties cut costs. In Howard County, a judge even recently attended court via video conference. Eventually, I expect Indiana courts will expand use of this technology to most non-trial matters.

I had the experience of trying something similar recently, using Skype. I had a client based out of state who was not able to come to Indiana for what was going to be a fairly simple matter, but one for which his input was important.  Although we resolved the issues without going on the record, I think that the video conferencing technology made this possible.  A video conference is more personal and interactive than a telephone; one gets a sense of the pauses, the facial expressions, and hand gestures we depend on to express ourselves. Those human elements are important in negotiations, particularly when financial issues may be secondary for the participants. 

I do have a few suggestions for participants or fellow attorneys who might use video conferencing in a professional setting.  1. Consider investing in a quality web camera and/or microphone.  Most webcams that are built-in to laptops are mediocre (and microphones are even worse) and HD webcams can be easily purchased for under $100.  I use this Microsoft version that worked quite well.  2. Like any camera that uses no flash,  consider your lighting.  Nothing looks more amateurish than extreme backlighting.  3.  Finally, consider having the remote party use headphones rather than speakers, to minimize feedback.


Author: Andy Perkins

Rochester, Indiana.

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