Long before working and meeting remotely was commonplace, the Nevada Supreme Court was advocating for remote court appearances. In fact, it encouraged “appearance by audiovisual transmission equipment” starting as early as 2009. Not until pandemic-related lockdowns ensued in 2020, however, did virtual court appearances become routine.
Going forward, remote court appearances should be the default for any and all proceedings that don’t require in-person attendance. Both legal professionals and the public have accepted virtual appearances as the norm, and advances in audiovisual technology have made convening and communicating remotely nearly effortless. Here’s why remote court appearances should not simply be an option; they should be the gold standard. (Read Marshal Willick’s opinion on remote court appearances.)
How Does a Remote Court Hearing Work?
Remote court hearings allow some or all participants — from defendants and plaintiffs to witnesses, legal teams, and perhaps even judges and juries — to take part in court proceedings using audiovisual transmission equipment and videoconferencing programs. Current Supreme Court rules governing civil and family court proceedings favor using audiovisual equipment in nearly all instances, with some exceptions being one-sided or contempt hearings.
This technology is easily accessible, as well. Recent census statistics indicate that more than 90% of adults own or have access to video-capable computer technology or a smartphone. In most cases, a smartphone and internet connection is all one needs to “enter” the virtual courtroom.
The judge has the authority to decide if participants must attend court in person. If someone wants to appear virtually, rules in some courts require that they must notify the court in advance; for others (family court), no such notice is needed. The proceedings are still recorded to maintain a record, and public access is allowed to the same extent as in-person hearings. In fact, the Eighth Judicial District judges have set standard procedures so virtual hearings mimic in-person ones as best as possible, including an online link allowing people to enter the virtual courtroom as they would a physical one.
Virtual attendees can perform all the same tasks as live attendees, including answering questions, arguing their case, and presenting documents and evidence. Individual court rules will dictate when and how they should submit their evidence prior to or during the case.
The Benefits of Remote Court Hearings
Remote court hearings have benefits that can apply to nearly all participants. Here’s why court appearances should be remote:
Most remote hearings run on more predictable schedules than in-person hearings. They also save participants time they’d otherwise lose traveling to and from court and waiting outside the courtroom. Rather than having to take an entire day off work for a hearing, participants can take a half-day or a couple of hours to attend from the convenience of their home or office, and can do other work during any waiting time.
Because attorneys bill by the hour, the reduced time spent traveling and waiting can save clients hundreds to thousands of dollars. Especially if the lawyer is not local, remote hearings eliminate the expenses associated with attorney travel, transportation, and hotel stays. This is particularly significant for low-income clients who might not only struggle to pay their attorney fees but also lose wages from taking time off work to attend court.
Reduced Carbon Emissions
Remote court appearances are more environmentally friendly than traditional in-person hearings. With fewer participants using air travel and ground transportation to commute to and from court, carbon emissions associated with trials decrease. It’s just one more step court systems can take toward a greener future.
Attorney Work-Life Balance
Many lawyers argue that remote court appearances allow them to have a better work-life balance. They spend fewer hours traveling and in court and can work from the comfort of their home or law office. This can lead to lower stress levels and better quality of life for these professionals.
In Nevada, courtroom infrastructure and availability are significant challenges facing several courts. These structures simply don’t have the capacity to accommodate everyone who needs to use them. Virtual trials can free up these spaces for the cases that need them most and reduce the court case backlog.
Remote hearings allow plaintiffs and defendants to have better access to their counsel of choice. Low-income participants, in particular, can expand their search beyond local law firms to find legal counsel they can afford. This provides a more level playing field for all parties involved.
Virtual court appearances provide fairer access to justice for many of the reasons mentioned above. If participants don’t have the necessary equipment or technology to attend remotely, courts can easily set up laptop kiosks at family court buildings as well as public facilities throughout the county. Therefore, even the small percentage of individuals who don’t have smartphones or devices can have equal access to justice.
Prepping for a Remote Court Appearance
Individuals participating in court appearances virtually can prepare by taking the following steps:
- Practice using the technology. Participants should determine which program the court prefers to use for remote attendance, ensure its installed on their computer or device, and practice using it so they understand its features before the hearing.
- Find a location with good internet. Participants must have an internet connection strong enough to maintain a consistent connection and run video.
- Dress professionally. Remote hearings are no more casual than live hearings. Participants should still wear professional attire that makes a good impression.
- Choose a clean background. Participants should choose a location for their remote appearance that’s not distracting or unprofessional. It should be neat and quiet.
- Submit evidence electronically. Participants should understand well in advance of their court date how to scan and submit or share documents they want to show the judge. They might do so via email, on the court’s website, or during the remote hearing.
- Arrive early. To avoid holding up the court, participants should log into their video conferencing programs about 10 minutes early to resolve any issues that might arise.
At the end of the day, the court’s purpose is to serve the public and ensure everyone has access to justice. If remote court appearances can save participants time, money, and hassle, then they are in the people’s best interest. Give us a call to learn about your remote legal options.