A Virtual SCOTUS: What’s Next
- Posted by Poston Communications
- On September 15, 2020
- communications, law, U.S. Supreme Court
United States Supreme Court Justices heard 10 arguments in May – a stacked month and quite historical. It was the first time arguments happened over the phone and more importantly, it was the first time the high court was truly an open court as people could listen in real time. Instead of a lively debate with an open firing of questions from the justices, the phone conversations were orderly, and advocates could only do their best to read into the justices’ way of thinking without any nonverbal cues.
Litigation and Appellate Practice of Law Goes Virtual
The Court’s new openness to public access and virtual law practice now being required in courtrooms across the country are the latest and greatest examples of how litigation and appellate practice is changing. Additional examples include:
- Virtual court hearings / depositions / mediations;
- Effective advocacy for yourself and your clients over video;
- Client meetings;
- Continuing Legal Education seminars;
- Remote law firm management and internal communications; and
- Industry thought leadership.
Journalists Rally Behind Public Audio of The Court
A recent webinar, entitled “2020 Supreme Court Roundup” and hosted by Casetext, featured the founders of SCOTUSblog and has a great summary of the unprecedented Spring 2020 session. It analyzed the new audio broadcasting rules and said this about its impact on litigation and appellate practice: “I think that was a great thing for the Court and the public, a great window into things that happened in the Court.”
With the changes to the format also come drastic adjustments in how journalists cover the Supreme Court. Gone are the days of reporters able to grab ready soundbites with advocates or opponents rallying or protesting outside the court. Same for decision days. There was very little commotion in front of the court amid the global COVID-19 pandemic – even with some of the biggest decisions coming down in June.
The same goes for any courthouse across America. In an effort to limit journalists’ exposure to the virus, the media is often relying on a video or audio feed supplied by the court (if available) or pooling the responsibilities so only one journalist is in the courtroom and gathering the information for the entire press corp.
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted a journalist’s traditional newsgathering style – from meeting in person to going virtual. Many are working from home, and video conferencing platforms and old-fashioned phone calls are how reporters are talking with attorneys and those connected to a case. The same kind of connections can be expected for the rest of the year. While the high court has not made the call on how arguments will play out for the fall session, court watchers can only assume they will continue via the phone in lieu of in-person arguments as the situation around the pandemic continues to evolve.
With Journalists’ New Approach, Have a Remote Media Strategy in Place
It is important for advocates of any case to have a remote media strategy in place, especially with high-profile cases – SCOTUS or not. Having an organized plan for virtual media relations, especially on decision days, will make all the difference. Best practices include:
- Build out a comprehensive media list and tier the contacts by categories such as priority, prior coverage and client preference.
- Establish communications templates including holding statements, emails for booking interviews and out of office automatic replies with pertinent information for journalists (i.e. links to any virtual press conferences).
- Book interviews with interested outlets ahead of time and block off 20-minute increments.
- On decision day, a rolling Zoom meeting keeps everyone organized and the waiting room feature will help ensure everyone is in the right place at the right time.
- Create a video news release (VNR) when the decision is announced to get the reaction and pertinent information captured, given you may not be able to accommodate all interested outlets right away. This will suffice until a one-on-one interview can take place. VNRs are also a useful tool for newsrooms that are lacking staff and resources due to the pandemic and may not be able to make the interview happen at all.
No matter the way forward for SCOTUS this fall term, the adaptations made because of social distancing have forced journalists, professional communicators and legal teams to think more creatively and find technological solutions that can be applied well into the future.