Monday, April 13, 2020
We are thrilled to welcome Justice Eva Guzman of the Texas Supreme Court as our guest author. Justice Guzman has served on the Texas Supreme Court since 2009. Her Court recently held Zoom oral arguments. Here are her thoughts on the Zoom argument experience.
The Covid‑19 crisis impacts our everyday existence to an unprecedented degree. But the work courts do must continue. The dedicated judges of the Texas judiciary have united to address novel challenges in novel ways. And at a time of great uncertainty and turmoil, the Texas bar has also stepped up to meet client needs. Social media has played a vital role in disseminating information to the public and the bar in an evolving legal landscape. In different ways, #We’reInThisTogether.
#AppellateTwitter has been a positive space for lawyers and judges to share information, ideas, and practice tips. So, with the Texas Supreme Court’s first‑ever web-based oral arguments looming, I leveraged the #AppellateTwitter community for ideas on best practices. With those arguments successfully in the history books, I will repay the favor with a few tips of my own for the bench and bar.
Preparation is key. On our end, Clerk of the Court Blake Hawthorne, OCA Director David Slayton, and an OCA team led by Casey Kennedy worked tirelessly to make sure every detail was just right—from security to backgrounds, timers, court announcements, monitoring of the argument itself and more. The arguments were relatively seamless. Before the big day, Blake met with the lawyers in each case via Zoom to ensure their familiarity with the technology, lighting, backgrounds, and audio and to answer any questions. I also strongly encourage advocates to practice their argument via Zoom to work through any kinks. If possible, the justices should also test the program by gathering on the platform a day or so before the argument to ensure familiarity with the process. Practice makes perfect!
Zoom arguments require different pacing. If possible, advocates should pause in between their points to allow for questions. Judges could signal they are about to ask a question by unmuting their mics, moving closer to the computer camera, and addressing counsel by name before asking a question. Speaking over each other happens in live arguments, but the nature of video conferencing makes it more awkward.
Don’t forget the details.
- Choose an appropriate background or location. Our judges used a uniform background to help set the tone.
- Fully charge your battery and use a power cord. Batteries discharge quickly while using video applications.
- Maximize internet connectivity to avoid dropping off mid‑argument. Disengaging other household devices from wifi is helpful but may prove difficult with so many children distance learning these days.
Finally, don’t forget about time management. Blake Hawthorne’s inclusion of a screen for the “timer” was ingenious, and having a set time for judges and participants to log into their waiting rooms was critical to staying on schedule.