A post about the kit needed for a versatile, portable legal practice
Time on ‘ZOOM’, ‘TEAMS’ and the Court Service’s ‘CVP’ video platform has suggested that some lawyers may welcome a little advice to improve and future-proof their working arrangements, especially as remote working seems to be here to stay.
The purpose of this post is not only to assist equip your personal video suite, but to enable you to work online anywhere – from home, from a camper in Kirkwall, or even a beach in Bermuda. What we can achieve from the spare bedroom at home we may replicate wherever we happen to be. Moreover, a couple of remote hearings will more than fund the equipment that is proposed in this post.
- The chair
Whilst in court we stand to cross examine witnesses, raise issues or make submissions – but online we remain tied to our seats within the camera field. This often means several hours at a stretch in an uncomfortable chair.
Comfort is essential, but so is versatility. We may have need to relocate our video suite for necessity or convenience, and a huge swivel-rocker is hardly portable. Ideally we require a lightweight versatile swivel chair that is not visually prominent on camera. It should be height-adjustable so it can be used with a variety of digital cameras. Avoid a chair with arms or high backs – they are unnecessary, intrusive and may restrict movement. And check that it doesn’t squeak.
2. The backdrop
Whilst TEAMS and ZOOM offer a blurred background option, so often I find myself treated to the view of lawyer’s or judge’s spare room, hidden away at the top of a house with a picture, plant or light plug as a backdrop. Folding screens in a variety of patterns are easy to erect and to move, reasonably priced and allow you to convert any quiet space into a professional video suite. For those intending to use remote locations for video connection, try a portable framed cloth screen. On camera it may work just as well as any professional backdrop.
3. WiFi and MiFi
Even for professional broadcasters, the weak link is often a lack of available broadband width. Ideally look to fibre connection for your solution, but fast enough speeds can also be achieved with conventional wired connections. Ensure that family members know when you are online and place an embargo on internet use whilst you are conferencing. For those that plan to work away from home broadand, source a 4G travel WiFi (MiFi) that will enable roaming on a variety of networks; or alternatively tether to your phone to use your mobile data, but first check your data limit before the hearing, and buy more if required.
4. Video screens
For remote conferencing a single screen is wholly inadequate. As lawyers we need to access multiple documents and make notes whilst keeping an eye on proceedings. Two screens – a laptop for video connect and a small Ipad as a document display are sufficient, but consider whether a third dedicated bluetooth keyboard and separate screen may make your day easier, especially when noting judgments. Whilst it is possible to deploy a split screen, question whether this will offer adequate visual display for the detail you require? Additionally, by keeping your mobile phone to hand on silent you may WhatsApp your client and/or other advocates during the hearing without losing visual contact to the hearing.
How often whilst video conferencing have you heard the demand to ‘mute your microphone’? The problem is that our computer speakers can feedback on video platforms. In any event, for a hearing, the idea of broadcasting proceedings on our computer speakers is fraught with confidentiality issues. Noise cancelling headphones allow you to access sound with minimal amplification, protecting both confidentiality and your personal hearing. If you sense that headphones are too intrusive, source a neat pair of noise cancelling bluetooth earbuds, adding extra portability to your remote hearings.
The audio of many built in microphones is poor, and I recommend the use of a dedicated USB condenser microphone. Not expensive and operating plug-and-play, the microphone will improve your voice sound quality massively, especially for recipients using good headphones or speakers.
Whilst I have encountered some superb video quality from wealthy lawyers that have invested in top quality cameras, for legal hearings I am not persuaded that we need anything more than the video afforded by most laptops or tablets. Issues with freezing are habitually due to broadband width rather than camera quality. My recommendation is to stick with your laptop/tablet camera and save your cash.
An LED ring light may be all you need to use your laptop/tablet anywhere – in any lighting situation. USB powered, with adjustable brightness in a variety of shade modes, these are cheap as chips and highly versatile, especially in winter as daylight fades. Bear in mind that you will need a USB port additional to that used for your USB microphone. But that may be where the next item comes in handy.
8. Battery pack
Whether using a laptop in court, or in some other remote location, a portable battery pack is an essential piece of kit to keep you live throughout the day. Freed from trailing wires, I have used a Zendure pack for several years, allowing me to run two devices from USB ports on the pack without the need for mains power. For those that travel, its value is enhanced, and you may wish to consider instead a router/NAS/power bank such as the Hootoo Tripmate Titan. Combine this with a 5G mifi and you can video conference from any location, anywhere, without concern of losing connectivity.
You have sorted your equipment, but have you addressed the question of ambient sound quality in your video suite? When moving to a new room or location it is wise to test the sound quality using recording software such as WavePad. Record a piece of prose, then listen back. This will advise you as to echo or reverberation that we often fail to note. Consider positioning your backdrop screen or using curtains or drapes to deaden unwanted frequencies.
10. Water and a plastic cup
Stupid as it sounds, this is often the last thing we think of before starting a remote hearing. Later, having been sitting for hours in your attic, your voice starts to creak. A tickle rises in your throat. You stare around in vain. The cocktail cabinet happens to be within reach, but the judge is still online.
Just don’t forget to have your innocent plastic cup to hand. Enjoy your remote hearing.
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