With technology ever-evolving and virtual legal proceedings becoming more prevalent, the importance of making sure that your computer or mobile device works well with remote platforms has become more important than ever. With a plethora of options and changing needs, it can be hard to differentiate devices built for general consumers and those designed around professional use. Navigating today’s computers and specifications can be difficult and sometimes confusing but breaking down the main components can ease the pain of understanding what is needed to avoid issues when attending a virtual proceeding. The Operating System, CPU, System Memory, Webcam, Microphone, & Speakers, or Headphones are key when looking for a professional device for virtual legal proceedings.
Selecting an OS
Operating systems should be one of the first things to look at with a computer or mobile device. The latest Operating systems for each device should be Windows 10 (with 11 coming soon), MacOS 11.0, Android 11, and iOS 14. Older versions of these operating systems may not be fully compatible with the latest versions of applications such as Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, or other remote attendance applications that need to be installed directly on your device. With Apple, this becomes even more important as older versions of macOS, and iOS will not allow certain applications to update and could compromise the performance of the application itself. Updated versions of Windows are also very important since patch updates and security updates will also ensure that performance is not compromised, and that security of the device is kept. Android operating systems also receive regular updates and having a version of android that is too old or not running updates can also cause performance issues. The general rule of thumb should be to have the latest version of the operating system for your computer or mobile device, and if the hardware doesn’t support the latest version, it may be time for an upgrade to ensure that your work and attendance are not compromised.
The Central Processing Unit or CPU is one of the most important pieces, albeit one of the smallest and least seen components of the computer. Most laptops and computers will have either an AMD or Intel CPU, while there are differences, choosing between the two is more of a preference than anything at this point. AMD CPUs are generally built for gaming and high-speed processes while Intel is built for performance, compatibility, and longevity. Most chipsets from these companies will generally perform well enough for general work provided they are from the latest generations. That would include Intel i3-i9 10th or 11th generation and AMD Ryzen 3000-5000 series which have been released within the last 3 years. Since Apple has released their own chipsets as of 2021, the Apple M1 CPUs are also sufficient and will perform well for virtual proceedings. Older CPUs can struggle in some cases such as sharing or examining large documents or running multiple applications at once.
Why Memory Matters
Many users overlook RAM or random active memory even though it is a major performance component; not having enough can cause significant issues when trying to work or attend and virtual proceeding. Most modern computers and mobile devices will have between 4GB and 16GB of RAM. 8GB is about the minimum we would recommend for remote work. The more RAM you have, the less you have to worry about running too many applications on your computer or mobile device and you can also expect better performance overall. Similarly, on mobile devices, 6GB of RAM on a mobile device is also suggested as a minimum to ensure that there is no compromise on performance or issues with applications being able to run to their full capacity.
Web cameras are key for virtual proceedings, ensuring high quality and professional video may not be important to all attendees but is highly recommended. For remote depositions, the most important participant, when it comes to webcam quality, would be the witness themselves. Basic specifications should be the ability to capture full HD video at around 30 frames per second (FPS). Most laptops and mobile devices have a built-in webcam. Most modern versions of these devices will have higher video quality than standard HD video, but making sure that the video quality is good enough to be seen clearly is important. Desktops on the other hand may need a high-quality webcam added via USB since most do not have anything built-in.
Being able to hear, and be heard, is the most important part of attending a virtual proceeding since this is what the reporter is using to create the transcript. This is where a majority of issues occur during remote proceedings, since the mindset seems to be that any microphone and speaker combination will work, which is unfortunately wrong. The best practice would be to use a pair of headphones, eliminating most scenarios of feedback (caused by speakers being picked up by the microphone). At a minimum, a pair of headphones should be kept on hand in case there are audio issues. Most laptops are equipped with speakers and a microphone built-in and commonly these are configured together to cancel each other out and eliminate the factor of the microphone picking up the speakers, but this is not always the case, especially when the computer starts to slow down, or the room is large and prone to echo. Mobile devices are also configured to cancel out the speaker, but this does not always work as intended and varies from mobile device to mobile device. One common issue seen is adding external speakers or microphones that are not configured to cancel each other out, which means that there will most likely be feedback issues and audio quality will be compromised.
The connection speeds of the modern era are mostly sufficient for video conferencing, but there are plenty of scenarios where video and audio quality are compromised because of the lack of internet speed or consistent internet connection. The recommended minimum speed is 10 Mb up and 10 Mb down, but most modern internet connections support much higher speeds. The main goal is consistency, a hardline ethernet connection is the gold standard, but a strong Wi-Fi connection can also suffice. Cell networks may be utilized if the connection is strong, and you have a 4G LTE or 5G connection that will not be interrupted. vTestify platforms have ways to preserve audio and video quality in low bandwidth situations, however, these situations can affect the quality of the testimony in some cases or disrupt workflows within the proceeding, which is why strong and consistent connectivity is so important. The best way to avoid having internet bandwidth issues is that hardline ethernet connection, with strong Wi-Fi as a second option, and cell connectivity as a last resort.
With hardware covered and basic components of the computer or mobile device explained, best practices are all that is left to discuss. First and foremost is appearance when attending a virtual proceeding, which starts with dressing appropriately and includes the location being used for attendance. Business casual is usually the bare minimum, with professional being the gold standard. The location should be somewhere quiet, with a plain backdrop if possible, such as a bare wall or as plain of a backdrop as possible. We do not recommend having windows or other lighting coming from behind your location as it will appear as though you are just a silhouette and facial features may not be able to be seen. As previously stated, headphones are a best practice, along with muting when not actively speaking to eliminate background noise and unintended disruption. Preparation is also key, when using a new platform, a new computer, or connecting from a new location it is best to test the configuration with the platform at least one day ahead of time in case there are any issues. This provides plenty of time to troubleshoot any issues, contact support if needed, or change things around such as computer or location if something is not able to be resolved. Logging into the proceeding at least 10 minutes ahead of time is also highly recommended as this time can be essential in starting on time and ensuring that everyone is set up properly. Many understand that technology is not perfect, and issues can arise even for those who are experienced and those who are extremely tech-savvy, so taking the extra time to test and log in early can ultimately save time. Many companies have a managed IT team, so contacting those IT professionals ahead of time for testing and ensuring that you have everything that is needed is also important. With cybersecurity at the forefront of the news, many IT teams are taking additional steps to secure networks and managed devices within the company. This can cause disruption in some scenarios such as firewalls, VPNs, and remote desktops. These things do not need to be disabled in order to attend on most platforms, however, they do need to be properly configured and enabled by I.T. to work and be fully functional.
In conclusion, a combination of software, hardware, and following best practices can ensure that testimony is captured in the best way possible. Both money and time are saved by not spending time that would otherwise be on record to troubleshoot issues that could have been resolved earlier. When it comes to virtual platforms like those powered by vTestify, we recommend that the main parties e.g. the questioning attorney, defending attorney, and hosts have the best setup and recommended a laptop or desktop computer especially when users intend to upload and share exhibits. Other participants may only need to see and hear while a witness may have limited options for attending; in these situations, a mobile device or less powered computer may be sufficient. Remote depositions and other virtual legal proceedings help to optimize workflows, reduce travel time, and increase access to justice through disruptions that may be more prevalent. This article’s recommendations will help you be part of the solution and ensure that you are not causing any delay or disruption.