Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Using Virtual Reality technology to train new courtroom lawyers

It involves technology created by the Harvard Law Access to Justice Lab that's being road tested in San Francisco this summer but there are plans to expand its use elsewhere. Of course this would be a great tool to help students build courtroom confidence while participating in law school clinics or trial advocacy courses. From Law360:

How Tech Is Helping Courtroom Newbies Become Virtual Pros

 

You walk into a courtroom and a woman strides toward you with an outstretched hand, rattling off details about a new case. There's a settlement conference this afternoon, you learn — and you're going to be there representing your new client.


If you don't know who this person is, just look at the words hovering over her head: "Supervising Attorney." Nervous because you've never been in a courtroom before? Don't worry — you still haven't.

This is how a virtual-reality training video begins for some attorneys who have volunteered to handle pro bono renter-landlord cases through the San Francisco Bar Association.

They don virtual reality goggles to prepare for their first courtroom experiences. Harvard Law Access to Justice Lab researchers hope that the program will embolden attorneys who've only worked in front of a computer screen rather than a judge to volunteer at pro bono clinics to help out in the courtroom.

This can be a terrifying prospect for some attorneys, and it's a big reason why many wash out when they discover what's expected of them.

 

Attorneys even a little bit afraid of working one-on-one with clients and navigating a courtroom might be especially tempted to pass on the opportunity if it's pro bono, since there's no financial motivation to push them through their fears, said Gloria Chun, the director of pro bono services for the San Francisco Bar Association's Justice & Diversity Center.

"Volunteering has this optional component to it that's different than how law firms work, and there are a lot of different options for pro bono," she said. The virtual reality training "has the potential to help a lot of them overcome fear of the unknown, and fear of unfamiliar settings and practices."

The program in San Francisco is one of several planned studies to see whether a 15-minute virtual reality experience might make attorneys usually holed up in cubicles more willing to take on pro bono work and, when they do, win better outcomes for their clients. If it works, it could become a more widely used tool used to prepare attorneys in legal-aid settings and beyond.

While there's certainly no shortage of opportunities for continuing legal education, VR training for lawyers remains rare. Few organizations offer it, and organizers say none offer a program quite like the one Harvard Law's Access to Justice Lab is heading.

Some law schools have used virtual reality as a way to immerse students in lessons. The University of Oklahoma College of Law, for instance, gave law students a tour of an important oil well in Western Texas through the eyes of a flying drone as professors lectured on the workings of the energy industry.

But the Harvard program seems like a unique solution to a problem that cuts across practice areas: courtroom experience has grown tougher to come by. Jury trials are growing more rare, and more senior attorneys tend to handle many appearances — the number of federal civil trials has declined 18 percent since 2014, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

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Continue reading here.

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