Tips and Tricks for Effective Virtual Advocacy
As a junior IP litigator, I find myself having a lot of questions about what it means to be an effective advocate in these “modern” times. I am among the first cohort of students to cut my teeth as a 2L summer and articling student wholly during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, my legal experience has been one of constant adjustments. I’ve witnessed our profession’s incredible ability to adapt and react to unprecedented times.
Because of COVID-19, Canadian courts and the legal profession have adopted a variety of measures to facilitate access to legal services. Some of these changes look poised to stick around, including virtual or remote court hearings.
The ability to offer virtual or remote court hearings have helped modernize the Canadian justice system and improve access to justice. Clients will benefit from virtual hearings as it reduces costs of litigation, by eliminating travel costs and certain expenses associated with attending a hearing in person. As litigation becomes more affordable for clients, there will be more opportunities for junior lawyers to attend hearings.
Junior lawyers (whether in IP or not) will have to familiarize themselves to the new reality of appearing before the court and honing their advocacy skills in a virtual setting.
To help those new to virtual advocacy, I’ve gathered some tips and tricks that I have found useful:
1. Be familiar with the virtual platform you’ll be using.
Courts across Canada have adopted a variety of platforms including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx, and Justice Video Network WebRTC. Test your microphone to ensure that your sound is audible with your videoconferencing system. Take the time to get yourself oriented if you don’t use the platform on a regular basis.
2. Set up a different communication channel for your team.
Use a different platform or application from the one you’re using for the virtual hearing to communicate with your team. This should help avoid mistakenly sending messages that were meant for internal communications only.
3. Be prepared and make it easy for yourself.
Any documents you’ll be using or screensharing for the hearing should be OCR’d, i.e. searchable. Be sure to make effective use of hyperlinking and cross-linking to your references.
4. Set up your computer and your work space ahead of time.
This may be obvious, but is important nonetheless. Make sure your computer is charged and close any applications or programs you won’t be using during the hearing. Turn off your notifications to e-mails and text messages to limit distractions. Save any documents you’ll be screensharing locally on your computer. Set up in a quiet space with a neutral background (preferably a white wall).
5. Have a plan B in case of internet failure.
This may be difficult depending on where you’re located, but have your phone ready in case you need to tether it to your computer.
6. Arrange your windows with care.
Use digital notes that are placed right next to your camera so that the audience sees your eyes and feels like you are engaging with them. Use your notes as a guide and don’t directly read from them.
Here are some of the resources I’ve found helpful:
- Virtual Advocacy: Views from the Bench – Lenczner Slaght – Lauren Mills Taylor
- Virtual Hearings and Services: Tools and Resources for Court Users and Personnel – Action Committee on Court Operations in Response to COVID-19, Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs Canada
- Virtual Hearings at the Federal Court – User Guide for the Public and Media – Federal Court
- Virtual Hearings at the Federal Court – User Guide for Participants – Federal Court
- Introduction to Zoom Best Practices – Federal Court – Justice William Pentney and Registry Officer Imrana Ahmed
- Best Practices for Remote Hearings – E-Hearings Task Force of The Advocates’ Society, the Ontario Bar Association, the Federation of Ontario Law Associations, and the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association
- Best Practices in a Zoom Courtroom – The Canadian Bar Association (British Columbia Branch)
- Using MS Teams in Online Court Proceedings – The Canadian Bar Association (British Columbia Branch)
- Connecting and Attending a Virtual Hearing Guide: For Counsel and Self-Represented Litigants – Alberta Court of Appeal