The COVID-19 pandemic has moved much of the business of courts around the country online. Some courts are continuing to delay and even shut down jury trials completely. Here are a couple of recent examples noted by my ThemeVision colleague Dennis Stolle.
But trials – in-person trials or some combination of virtual and in-person – are still happening. King County, Washington is a good example where a convention center in Bellevue has been turned into what has been described as a ‘Pop-Up’ courthouse. The extra space allows for social distancing and other safety protocols. The place is busy and it’s operating like a regular courthouse.
Here are the specs:
Despite the pandemic, trial teams large and small still have to work together. Team work is an essential part of a successful trial experience. Trial teams often work in close quarters. I was recently part of a fairly large trial team in King County. Jury selection was done via Zoom, but the trial itself was held in person at the convention center, although some witnesses appeared by Zoom.
The team was in King County for a month and safety was a top priority for everyone, especially our client. In some cases, you may be able to work together in a virtual war room, but if you have to work together in person at trial, here are a few things I learned about staying safe in your trial workspace or ‘war room.’
- Develop a plan before trial.
- Know when and how your team is arriving.
- Provide guidelines for staying safe and healthy.
- Ensure your guidelines follow the latest CDC guidance and any local rules and regulations (state or city) related to the COVID pandemic.
- Set up your trial work space – ‘war room’ – appropriately. If you have a large team, multiple war rooms will allow for social distancing. If you have a small team, you still need to make space for social distancing. Make sure each team member has his or her own work space in the work room – no sharing of computers or work stations.
- Wear masks or respirators in your trial work space.
- Make sure face coverings, hand sanitizer, rubber gloves, disinfecting wipes, etc. are readily available.
- Use plastic barriers between individual work spaces if possible.
- Understand the court’s safety rules. They may be different than your team’s rules.
- Understand your client’s rules and expectations with respect to safety.
- Know your law firm’s COVID policies.
- If your war room is located in a hotel or at a facility that is not your office, make sure you know and understand the COVID protocols the hotel or facility has in place.
- If possible, have team members tested for COVID throughout the course of the trial. Have a plan in place if someone has a ‘positive’ test. Regardless, do daily health screenings and check-ins.
- Try to operate in a COVID trial ‘bubble’ if possible and minimize contact with anyone outside the team during the course of the trial.
- Make sure your war room snacks are prepared and pre-wrapped. No dirty hands in a communal peanut jar.
- Do as much as you can remotely.
- Wash. Your. Hands.
This is not an exhaustive list and there is never a guarantee you’ll stay safe and healthy even if you follow every protocol exactly. Remember – you are in the best position to protect your own health and safety in the war room and outside the war room.
I’d like to hear about your experiences at trial during the time of COVID. Please post your comments and additional tips for keeping trial teams safe at trial during the COVID pandemic.
Trisha is ThemeVision’s Vice President and Legal Communication Strategist. She is a lawyer and Emmy award-winning former journalist – a veteran storyteller whose practice focuses on providing strategic legal communications counsel, helping clients navigate complex communications issues in high stakes litigation and other adversarial settings.