VIRTUAL COURT HEARINGS/ MEETINGS - HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE SUGGESTIONS FOR ADVOCATES - PART 1
The physical closure of Courts resulting from COVID pandemic continues.
Despite being comfortable with digital case files (following CPBH), it may still be daunting to participate in Court hearings exclusively with digital case files. Apprehensions in this regard are further aggravated if you are a busy practitioner/ Senior Advocate with multiple matters listed on the same day.
Such qualms may constrain you back to physical files to avoid any untoward incidents during hearings.
In this post, I suggested few hardware and software to streamline your work-flow for seamless digital hearings. The suggested technology not only applies for Court Hearings, but also for Advocate/ Client conferences, over digital medium, if you are required to attend multiple matters in a short period of time.
This post is predominantly for Advocates functioning on Apple ecosystem. Some devices suggested in this post like Graphic Tablets and Writing Monitors are also applicable for Windows users. I suggest Windows / Android users also peruse this post to get an idea on functionality. I will write a separate post for Windows / Android ecosystem (any suggestions?).
Dual-Screen system: If you appeared before Courts (or participated in conferences) with digital files, you might have realised that it is not convenient to use the same screen for both video conferencing and digital case files.
Most video conferencing software will either completely minimise the video or switch to button mode if other applications are opened, thus affecting eye contact and video-conferencing user experience. Moreover, the whole process is very cluttered if you use the same screen for both meetings and files.
Is two different computers the solution? In my opinion, not really!
If you work on two independent computers, one for video conferencing and other for digital files, you will not be able to effectively use an important functionality required for digital meetings: 'Screen-Share'. As your digital files are being operated on a different system, you cannot effectively screen share you files.
This could be seemingly remedied with logging into both the devices. However, this remedy is not practical as number of users for a given matter is restricted in most courts. Moreover, logging into two different computers on varied video-conferencing platforms simultaneously along with the concomitant screen-share is very cumbersome.
The answer lies in multiple screens for same computer. Before, I elaborate on this, let me clarify one another hardware conundrum for Apple users.
Can such two screens be two Macs or two iPads?
With a Mac, you have a full desktop OS interface with functionality to open and navigate between as many files, in as many windows, you wish. However, the biggest drawback is the lack of touch/ pencil support. This dampens the usage experience as you can not write your notes or annotate on the files using Apple Pencil.
With iPad, you have the pencil support and full annotation functionality. However, as iPad runs on iOS, which is a mobile Operating System, your ability to open multiple windows is limited.
The final hardware solution to both the above problems is by using one Mac and one iPad, with iPad as a second screen for the mac utilizing the in-built Sidecar feature in Mac or a third party app like Duet.
With the above feature, your iPad becomes an extra screen for your Mac along with Pencil Support. You can also drag and drop files and folders between the screens seamlessly. Both the screens are considered as two independent displays by video conferencing software during screen-share. Therefore, if you share your iPad screen (or vice versa) the other screen, though operating on the same computer, is not shared.
Sidecar is not supported on all apple devices (verify whether your Mac / iPad supports Side car). If your Mac/ iPad is not supported, you can subscribe to Duet for a full Sidecar like dual-screen experience. Duet also works with Windows and Android Operating Systems.
Graphic Tablets: In my post: 5 Point Guide To Digitize An Advocate's Office, I suggested that having a tablet computer is optional. For those of you who want to run a full digital office only with their laptop / desktop computers, lack of tablet forces you back to paper files whenever you need to annotate on files (not merely type out comments).
This could be remedied with Graphic Tablets.
Graphic Tablets are small slate like devices which can be connected to computers for annotation on digital files.
Wacom and XP-Pen are well knows brands in this segment. These devices are actually meant for advanced drawing. Therefore, document annotation can be performed quite easily once you get accustomed to their user interface.
In a dual screen set-up suggested above, instead of iPad, you can connect any other monitor as second screen for your files, which in-turn can be customised to work with your Graphic Tablet for full annotation experience.
Drawing / Writing Monitors: If you really want to upgrade to a full futuristic work experience for long term digital work-flow, you can also invest in a full tablet-top Writing Monitors along with a good stand as second screen (For example, Wacom's Citiq line of products / XP-Pen's Artist Pro line of products) .
The difference between iPad and Writing Monitors lies in size. The largest iPad is only 12.9 inches. However, display monitors come in varied sizes (as large as 32 inches), offering a full table-top digital work experience in the long run.
With large display monitors, you will also not be constrained to open the documents in small windows thus eliminating reading strain. Some of these monitors are quite expensive. Research on your desired product's functionality before purchase.
Earphones. Please do not use the in-built mic and speakers on your computer as it results in an echo affecting the audio quality for everyone. Use a good quality external mic and earphone for crisp audio experience. In my usage, I found AirPods Pro to deliver impeccable results (in terms of connection ease & stability, audio quality and mic clarity).
Dual-Display Software: Dual-Display software essentially makes your iPad a second screen for your mac. This has already been explained above.
Window Manager software: Do you struggle with opening, resizing and toggling between digital files during hearing/ meetings? Window Manager software enable you to perform these tasks, and may more, in a jiffy.
You can also have pre-defined window sizes enabling you to instantly achieve a pre-fixed window size when you open a file, without wasting time on window arrangement during Court hearings. Most of these applications are also customisable with apple track pad gestures / keyboard shortcuts.
Volume and Mic operating software: We heard of instances where an Advocate arguing in one court is suddenly heard in another Court's virtual hearing. These aberrations happen when you keep multiple video-conferencing applications open simultaneously.
Though most video-conferencing applications come with volume and mic options, it is handy to have volume and mic control of all applications on your Mac's Menu-Bar. This will enable you to adjust volume and mic settings directly from your menu bar without toggling between multiple apps. Some of these applications also enable you to boost volume and reduce ambient noise during hearings.
Second OS: Attending multiple Courts simultaneously is tricky. Some applications do not permit two meetings at the same time. Some Advocates try to remedy this quandary with multiple computers during hearings.
Another possible remedy is to have a second Operating System within your Mac (not multiple users). You can have a full Windows as second OS within your Mac. Moving to such second OS is as easy as opening, minimising or closing a new application.
Suggestions: Parallels Desktop, etc.
I initially thought of writing this post on the exact work-flow that can be followed using the suggested Hardware and Software. Halfway though the draft, I realised that it is better to leave the final work-flow for individual implementation as the suggested technology can be used in multiple permutations depending on your subjective requirement.
There are numerous Youtube videos on all the above hardware and software. You can get a visual perspective on usage though such videos, which will also help you in devising your work-flow.
Please let me know if you have any difficultly in applying the suggested technology in a synchronised manner. Depending on your response, I will write a separate post on possible use-case scenarios.