Expect the Unexpected: SSF Volunteers Talk Zoom Hearings

ASHLEIGH STARNES | March 2, 2021

It’s a new world for the courts. In this short interview, we ask two volunteers about their experience with virtual litigation.

About the Volunteers

Katera Nelson owns and operates a law firm that focuses on criminal defense and civil litigation. She has a passion for volunteer work, particularly that which promotes equal access to the justice system while protecting the most vulnerable members of the community. 

Nicholas Gettys is a young family law attorney with an interest in pro-bono and public interest legal work. Prior to passing the bar, Nick volunteered with AVLF as an intern, and has continued volunteering as a practicing attorney.

AVLF: In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of virtual hearings? If you had to choose in person or virtual, which would it be?

Nicholas Gettys: I would definitely choose in person, but there are some benefits that I’ve seen to Zoom hearings. I live outside of the perimeter, so it wouldn’t be possible for me to volunteer with AVLF if we weren’t doing virtual hearings. And I’m sure a lot of AVLF clients face transportation issues of their own getting to court — so having Zoom available as an option to them makes it much easier for them to be able to attend court. 

Technical issues have been omnipresent in the hearings I’ve attended so far. There have been a number of internet and audio issues. Thankfully the judges and the court have been very patient so far, but doing things through Zoom has created a lot more stress than usual.

Clients have expressed a preference for virtual  hearings because it’s easier to access.

Katera Nelson:  I enjoy the convenience of virtual hearings. Clients have expressed a preference for virtual  hearings because it’s easier to access. They don’t have to deal with the hassle of finding parking downtown, finding a sitter for kids, or even taking off work in some instances. The downside to virtual hearings is navigating technical issues, particularly for clients who are not familiar with Zoom. 

Personally,  I’m used to the courtroomI enjoy the familiarity of the routine.  

AVLF: In there anything that surprised you about Zoom hearings?

KN: What was most surprising to me was how smooth everything went. I expected there would be a lot of technology hiccups, but surprisingly, it’s all gone fairly smooth. The judges have a good command of how to use Zoom, and they’ve fashioned what I think is a really efficient process for attorneys and clients.

The best advice I can give is prepare, prepare, prepare to the point where you feel overprepared.

NG: I didn’t have a lot of prior trial experience before volunteering with AVLF, and things have felt very streamlined and quick compared to what I was expecting. I sat in on live hearings, and I would say they lasted twice or three times as long as they are now. 

AVLF: Is there any advice you would give to an attorney taking on a Zoom hearing for the first time?

NG: Preparation. The best advice I can give is prepare, prepare, prepare to the point where you feel overprepared.

The other thingespecially in the era of zoom hearingsis expect the unexpected, and be flexible. You can jump into a hearing as scheduled and nothing will go as you expected. Overpreparing made me feel like I was able to handle things when the situation changed rapidly. For example, I had a case where the respondent didn’t show up, I had to present my case in a completely different way. Preparation definitely helped with that.

KN: Prepare for the hearing just as you would for a regular in-person hearing. Resist the  temptation to become lax because you don’t have to physically appear at court. Treat it the same way you would an in-person hearing. Get dressed, prepare your arguments and evidence, and show deference to the court. When you’ve taken the steps to properly prepare, hiccups are reduced.

Lilli and Jamie were awesome—they made everything really direct and clear.

AVLF: How was your experience working with AVLF staff?

KN: I enjoy working with AVLF. It’s the primary pro bono organization that my office works with. Lilli and Jamie were awesome—they made everything really direct and clear as far as providing all the paperwork needed and answering questions.

NG: I’ve talked with Lilli and Joel several times when I was preparing for the hearing date, and they’ve been very, very helpful. If I ever have questions about what I need to do in a situation, or what I should do to prepare these forms, or what I should tell my client to help her prepare for the hearing — they have been a great help.

AVLF: Anything else you want to add?

NG: It’s been a great experience so far, and I would be happy to participate again in the future!

KN: AVLF is an awesome organization that promotes well needed access to the legal system! I enjoy working with them and look forward to future pro bono opportunities.

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Ashleigh Starnes

Communications Manager 

As AVLF’s Communications Manager, Ashleigh works in website content development, social media outreach, and various other forms of communication with our clients, volunteers, and supporters.

Ashleigh is ever-eager to share the remarkable stories of our work, and the impact of AVLF’s staff and volunteers on our community.

Before joining AVLF, Ashleigh was a Fulbright Scholar in Turkey. She holds a BA in English and Linguistics from the University of Georgia. She is also a performance artist, and can occasionally be seen performing movement pieces, poetry, and combinations of the two around Atlanta and beyond.

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