The hype for hybrid hearings

Law In Order Senior Director – eHearings Elizabeth Miller on how increased digitalisation has served the legal profession

In the wake of COVID, what has the courtroom become? Law In Order Senior Director – eHearings Elizabeth Miller lauds the fusion of virtual and in-person proceedings and how her team’s wealth of skills have covered crucial needs in the industry.


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Ksenia: [00:00:22] Welcome to Australasian Lawyer. With us today we have Elizabeth Miller, Senior Director of eHearing at law in order here to talk about the rise of eHearings in legal proceedings. And so I understand that e hearings have become a lot more popular given the increased digitization of the legal market as a whole since the pandemic. How have virtual hearings developed over the last year? 

Elizabeth: [00:00:43] eHearings have become especially popular given the increased digitization of the legal market as a whole since the pandemic. How have virtual hearings developed over the past year? There's been a greater adoption of the self managed video technology, in particular Zoom and many similar products. With that has come the onset of a race to market by many of the video conferencing software platforms, which has been a challenge itself, with only a few having very solid solutions. Our virtual proceedings simulate all the necessary components of a hearing room, virtually. Participants can use mobile laptop and tablet devices to connect rather than the traditional video conferencing facility, which has led to the demise of a lot of facilities around the world. Features include multi encrypted meeting rooms, constant sharing of evidence, display attendee management and breakout rooms. There's a greater acceptance of cloud based solutions. There is more integration between in-person and virtual modes of hearings as restrictions are relaxed. And what we mean by that is an in-person hearing is everyone is physically in a hearing room virtually as there's no one in a hearing room. And a hybrid is a mix of people being in the hearing room and also virtual. Virtual hearings have become a contingency plan for the hybrid hearing. If there is an outbreak and a lockdown happens. The courts or the tribunals can jump from a hybrid hearing into a virtual hearing. In a matter of hours. We have had to create remote and physical formats for all our services to ensure we can offer them. In any event, we have to have a risk management plans that can move a hearing from one type of mode to another to ensure that no time is minimum, time is lost and the hearing can proceed as soon as possible. We have remote stenography for live transcription and also for captioning. We have remote evidence presentation and this is becoming more common practice to reduce numbers to comply with capacity restrictions. Courts in Australia, the Federal Court, Supreme Court all had a reduction down to about 20 persons, including the court staff were only permitted in the room. Remote stenography was uncommon before the pandemic. Many stenographers didn't want to work remotely, feeling that they would lose a connection with the legal participants in the room. But that has proven not to be the case and we are able to have quite high. We are producing very high quality stenography and transcription. Video conference bridge connections between audio and video is also built into many systems, including ours, and this gives the ability for anyone who is participating to actually on one screen or multiple screens to be able to actively participate in any hearing. Virtual hearings enable proceedings to continue through the pandemic, but as we return to more in-person hybrid hearings, perceive our blend of virtual and in-person components. 

Ksenia: [00:04:20] And so what kinds of hearing models have you established and how have these progressed based on the needs that you've identified over the last 12 months? 

Elizabeth: [00:04:29] All hearing models are being facilitated now in-person hybrid and virtual. Although in the past year we have seen hybrid hearings as a variety for most firms, based on the needs identified and the needs identified. Covid 19 worldwide, we can no longer have people traveling interstate into hearing rooms or indeed into countries. We have seen hybrid hearings increase in prevalence since the pandemic began, and adopting a hybrid mode has become the preferred way to conduct hearings for most firms. Law and Order had been conducting a hybrid hearings and virtual hearings about a year before the pandemic, and that was driven by international travel, the costs of international travel, and the adoption by many countries of already starting to have virtual hearings as the norm. This mode embraced embraced both the virtual and in-person hearing room environments, allowing for practitioners to participate either in-person, physically or virtually by remote capabilities. It takes into account the imposed restriction capacity rules of the physical space in compliance with social distancing measures. One of the things that many of the law firms did internationally and in Australia is they built their own hearing rooms within their law firms, or they hired a premise that would give them a one large room and they actually would have all their lawyers in those rooms and some barristers if they weren't able to go into the court. It was unusual for the law firms to be allowed into the court as they were represented by their counsel. Each had to consider the state and jurisdictions having different rules and COVID 19 related restrictions in place that can swiftly change at any time. The necessity to embrace hybrid hearing models is more important than ever. We went many trials where the legal participants were not able to be allowed into another state. In particular, Western Australia was a real issue. We had a very large hearing and we worked with the court to provide a solution that was suitable not only to the court but also to the legal parties and their clients. So we had to basically be flexible and adaptable to changing restrictions that may disrupt the running of the matter, which is why they had to become a priority and involve in the legal landscape and amid the pandemic. Part of that, as I said previously in question one when I was asked, is all services ran remote since not all petitioners or witnesses can attend a physical courtroom due to the many restrictions. The necessity for a hybrid hearing started to exist. So basically we run virtual and hybrid hearings for all the Royal Commissions, Special Commissions of inquiries, the AGDM in Abu Dhabi, international arbitrations, the Federal and Supreme Courts and Trials and Mediations. The common features of a hybrid hearing comprise the use of video conferencing, remote evidence presentation, a cyber secure online court book, a remote stenographer providing the transcription integrated into the online hearing book and remote witness management and support it. Support and video conferencing bridge operators and sometimes public or private web streaming. These features are integrated into the in-person hearing room or courtroom, with the virtual solutions customized to the legal requirements. 

Ksenia: [00:08:26] And so moving on to talk a little bit about your team. How has the firm's team boasted the effectiveness of its eHearings offering? 

Elizabeth: [00:08:34] We are an innovative and agile team that is constantly having to come up with bespoke solutions because we have to think outside the box to be innovative. We have to have innovation tied to the solutions which is bespoke, and this leads to delivering winning results. For this, a high performance team is needed multi skills and with diversity. Due to the legal requirements, we really have to always make sure the difference. The different bespoke solutions meet with the Commission, the commission, the inquiry, the jurisdiction, whether it's Supreme or Federal Court or any other mediation or tribunal that we work in. 

Ksenia: [00:09:23] And what are the skills that your team brings to the table that makes your firm's eHearings offering some effective. 

Elizabeth: [00:09:30] We have a multidisciplinary skill set and diverse mindsets. We build high performance teams and it's taken over eight years to build those teams. We've had consistent team members which are actually cross-training younger staff into a high performing role. So the diversity of the skills and experience that they possess as we have legal practice and core procedures. Those are both junior and senior lawyers. We have I.T. and computer science, which is also networking security. Multi-disciplinary device management. We have project management, we have interpretation and transcription skill sets. We have media and communication which are required to ensure that we know how to work with the media outlets. We provide media outlets upon instructions from the courts and from the Royal Commission's live feed and audio feed as well. We have a graphic arts. All of our live web streaming has a series of graphics which overlay, and we have a group of staff who actually do graphic arts. We have document management, which is also evidence management basically in the space that we work in. The document management is indeed the evidence that's being put together to be presented to the public or to the court. And in doing that, you have to have understand the the level of confidentiality and how and when things can be presented in a hearing. We also have audio forensics. Many members of our team have extensive audio backgrounds, including having worked for large Australian channel television stations. We also these days have live captioning and broadcasting. In addition to that, we also have teams that are used to working with what is mainstream now the Auslan staff. 

Ksenia: [00:11:52] Well, thank you so much, Elizabeth, for coming on and sharing your insights with us. It's been absolutely fantastic to have you and from us here at Australasian Lawyer. Thank you for watching and we'll see you again soon in the next video.