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180 - The 3 P's of a Virtual Hearing Image

09/16/2020 6:00 pm

With virtual hearings probably here to stay (at least for the near future), it is a good idea to be as best prepared for the hearing as possible. While the rules of evidence and procedure apply the same to a virtual hearing as they would for an in-person hearing. In this show, Leh and Todd discuss how to prepare for, practice, and perform at a virtual hearing.

Transcript

Leh Meriwether: Welcome everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. We are your co-host for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. Here you'll learn about divorce, family law, and from time to time even tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com.

Leh Meriwether: Todd, one of the things I love about this show is we do it to help people. And we're talking about people that aren't even our clients. And it takes a lot of time to put these shows together. We put a lot of thought into it... at least sometimes. I was kidding. And sometimes we don't take enough time to thank the people that post reviews.

Leh Meriwether: So I want to start off the show by just saying thank you to all those people that posted reviews. I mean, we make any money from the show. It's just to help people, our clients, in particular, but also everyone going through this process. We're here to help. And the more reviews that we get, the higher our show climbs in the ratings, which means more people are going to be able to get access to this information and hopefully get through this process, occasionally, as one reviewer put, maybe even save their marriage.

Leh Meriwether: But I wanted to take a moment just to read two of the ones we just most recently got. One was actually somebody who came on the show. He said, "Great insight. I listened to a few episodes in preparation for being a guest on the show, 177, and was impressed with how they combined deep knowledge with easy listenability. This was confirmed when I worked with them on the episode. Thoroughly recommend it." Well, thanks, Simon.

Leh Meriwether: Apparently, he wasn't the only one who liked this show. Another review said, "Extremely informative! Super informative! I loved the interview at Simon Brady explaining financial mistakes to watch out for when going through a divorce." And so I just wanted to say thanks to MikeVacca95, and really appreciate the reviews. And if you're enjoying the show, if you wouldn't mind taking a moment and just going online and posting a review, wherever you listen to your pods. We actually have instructions on our website, divorceteamradio.com if you've never posted a review about how to do it.

Todd Orston: Yeah. I mean, it really does mean the world to us. And like you said, we really do this to help people. We don't look for anything in return, other than we just love hearing from people that they have gotten something out of the information that we're providing. So anyway, any reviews you could leave for us… good ones, of course… then we really truly appreciate it. And we're going to keep making the shows, and whoever it helps, that makes us happy. That's why we're doing it.

Leh Meriwether: Yep. All right. Even with 180 shows, I'm sure there's still shows we haven't covered, so just send us an email. Go to our website, atlantadivorceteam.com, you can find the email for Todd and myself there, and send us an email, "Hey. I would love to hear a show about X, Y and Z."

Todd Orston: I mean, it does have to be family law related. Like if you want us to do a show on what a liger is or something, then I don't… well, that'd be pretty cool actually. I could do that. Yeah. I don't understand what a lion-tiger mix is, but whatever.

Leh Meriwether: We just have to start a whole new podcast on that one.

Todd Orston: I guess so. All right.

Leh Meriwether: All right. So, but today, we are talking about something very practical. We're going to talk about the three P's of a virtual hearing. So Todd, what are the three P's?

Todd Orston: My guess would be, it's the average number of bathroom breaks you take in the middle of a show.

Leh Meriwether: Oh my gosh.

Todd Orston: Is that not what we're… I mean, that's a weird thing to talk about in the show, but-

Leh Meriwether: No.

Todd Orston: No? Oh. Oh, it's a different? Okay. All right.

Leh Meriwether: Oh my gosh. No. It's preparation, practicing, and performing.

Todd Orston: Ah, those. See, I knew it probably wasn't the bathroom breaks.

Leh Meriwether: Oh my gosh. Okay. All right, now we got to get serious because, see, trials are serious. Let me start here. I'll probably say this again later. When the pandemic hit, some court systems were actually already set up for this. Others, like here in Georgia, we're not set up for virtual hearings. There was this massive shift and change, and people didn't know how to do things. So there was a lot of grace given. Maybe people weren't dressed up like they should be like normally going to court. Now we're several months in. So that grace is… well, that's fading quickly.

Leh Meriwether: And so we want to put together another show, we did one a while back, but we'll put together another show about having virtual hearings to make sure you properly prepare, that you properly practice. And then when you perform at this virtual hearing, I mean, you give a presentation that's going to dramatically increase your chances of winning the case. So, are you ready?

Todd Orston: Yup. I'm ready.

Leh Meriwether: All right. We maybe refer to Zoom a lot, because that's actually what a lot of what we're seeing here in Georgia are a lot of Zoom hearings, but these apply to any platform. Some judges are using Microsoft Teams, which basically is a pro level of like Skype, because Microsoft owns Skype. I mean, BlueJeans I think is another virtual program.

Leh Meriwether: So it doesn't matter what software you're using for this virtual hearing. The first thing you have to do is go find out, what's the platform that the court's going to be using. So platform will be Zoom, basically the software that enables the virtual hearing, go to either the website or YouTube and watch videos on how the software works. It's very important.

Leh Meriwether: So long before this hearing, you need… this is part of this preparation, because that's what we're hitting first. Look at these things. Some people might be tempted to use a chat feature in Zoom, and most of these softwares have a chat feature. Well, often the host, if it's set up a certain way, they can see the conversation you might be having with your lawyer. So the last thing you want is the judge to see the conversation you have with your lawyer through Zoom.

Todd Orston: Yeah.

Leh Meriwether: And we talked several shows ago about this, how it's important to talk with your lawyer about how you're going to communicate during the course of the hearing. And we'll get into that a little bit later, like the actual when you're ready for the hearing.

Todd Orston: Very quickly. I mean, there are a lot of attorneys who will tell you that the case is usually won before you even walk into court, or lost before you walk into court. And what that really is talking about is the level of preparation. If you walk in and you wing it, you're probably not going to do well. All right? And now we're talking about a nontraditional method of trying cases, which means there are some additional layers of preparation that you need to be thinking about.

Todd Orston: And that's what we're talking about, because if you walk in and you are not prepared, you may have your argument in your mind ready to go, but if you now don't have all the technological aspects of trying a case, just down pat that you understand the tool you're using, how the tool works and how to best present your story using that technology, then the case may be lost. Doesn't matter how strong your argument is. Again, that's my take on what we're talking about when we say preparation.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah. First thing, if you got something coming around the corner, put a pause on this show… or if you're listening to on the radio, you can't really get a pause… but when you get home, you can go back and listen to our previous episode about how to prepare. I'll find the number. Well, actually, that was a 172. So Episode 172, we talked about nine practical steps to take to prepare for a virtual hearing. Go back and check that. And your lawyer is probably going to do a lot of this. If you can get an external microphone. So we didn't really talk about these. We're going to touch on this because we already went in a much deeper level on the last show.

Leh Meriwether: But if you can afford it, an external microphone, an external light to light you up, trying to have more than one device. So don't just have your computer with Zoom on it. So you can have one that's got Zoom, and another device maybe to communicate with your lawyer. Maybe you'll do it in the same room. That's something you're going to discuss with your lawyer. Are you going to be at your house while your lawyer is at the office? Are you going to be in the same room? Are going to take a COVID test before you have the hearing? So all those things need to be discussed ahead of time, not two days before.

Leh Meriwether: Like I said, if you can have an extra screen or laptop, that's very helpful, or iPad, and you have to decide ahead of time if you want to have [inaudible 00:10:36]. And when we come back, we're going to continue to talk about how to prepare for a virtual hearing.

Leh Meriwether: I just wanted to let you know that if you ever wanted to listen to the show live, you can listen at 1:00 AM on Monday mornings on WSB. So you can always check us out there as well.

Todd Orston: Better than like counting sheep, I guess. Right? You can turn on the show, and we'll help you fall asleep.

Leh Meriwether: There you go.

Todd Orston: I'll talk very soft.

Leh Meriwether: Welcome back everyone. I'm Lee, and with me is Todd. We are your co-hosts for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. If you want to read more about us, you always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com. And if you want to listen to prior shows, go to divorceteamradio.com. You'll find our prior shows along with a transcript of those shows.

Todd Orston: Yeah. I just like how you stressed shows. That was, "Shows." Before we move on, well, I just want to make a couple comments. Some of what you were saying almost sounded like there's an assumption that somebody has an attorney. This show is for anyone going through this.

Todd Orston: So if you don't have an attorney, obviously there are some logistical things you don't have to take care of. You don't have to worry about COVID testing. I mean, unless you really don't trust yourself, and that doesn't really make sense. So if you can't remember where you've been, then you have bigger problems. But the things like getting an external microphone and external light, things like that, I just want to be very clear, what you're talking about is that the sound quality and the picture quality.

Todd Orston: All right. The computer that you're going to use in order to be a part of this hearing, the microphone may be great, the lighting in wherever it is, in your home, or office or wherever it is might be fine. That's going to come down to what we talked about with that second P of practice. You need to do a dry run through. You need to do a practice run in order to make sure that the lighting is okay.

Todd Orston: Like when you and I were doing videos, I mean, I literally went to, because the lighting in my house it just wasn't good enough, and it's amazing I found I ended up going and buying two like spotlights, and that's what dramatically improved the picture.

Todd Orston: Now, again, you're not doing this because you're in Hollywood and you need this to be beautiful, but you do need to be seen. And if you're sitting under like a single lamp light, there's a very good chance that the other parties, including the judge, can't even see you.

Todd Orston: So again, we're not telling you, in order to do this, that you have to go out and spend thousands of dollars on equipment, but you do need to be aware that the lighting and the microphone that you're using can dramatically affect what you look like and sound like during these hearings, and that can really play a part into how your hearing goes.

Leh Meriwether: Yep. If you are on a tight budget, then don't worry about this stuff. What's more important is preparing your exhibits, and we'll go into that a little bit. You could look and sound great, but if you can't get your evidence into the hearing, that's not… the evidence is most important thing.

Todd Orston: That's right.

Leh Meriwether: This is just adding that little bit of polish. So if like your evidence and the opposing side's evidence is about equal, that maybe the added level of professionalism suddenly adds a level of credibility to your evidence above the other side. So that's what we're talking about. And the external light can be as simple as… Home Depot sells these clip-on things, they're like a metal aluminum shroud that you screw a light bulb into, and they're like 10 bucks or 15 bucks. You want to get a daylight light, because that's the right, what's called, temperature for these, and you get a daylight light bulb, like a 60 watt, you screw it into it, and then you put it so it's basically lighting up your face.

Todd Orston: And it's uncomfortable.

Leh Meriwether: We don't want you to obsess about it.

Todd Orston: Yeah. But I'm not going to lie. Like when I put the two lights in front of me, I was seeing spots for about 20 minutes after a show. But it looks a lot better. And obviously, I give everything to my art. No, I'm kidding. I'm joking. I feel a little nauseous having said that. Anyway. All right, let's move on.

Leh Meriwether: All right. This is maybe more of actually performing, but one of the things I love about these virtual hearings, Todd, is that I can just roll out of bed, throw out my jammies and just get in front of the camera.

Todd Orston: Yeah. No, no. I am actually drawing a line. I don't want to see you in your jammies, ever, to be very honest with you, and I can almost guarantee no judge wants to see that either.

Leh Meriwether: No. So dress for your Zoom, or your virtual hearing, I should say, dress as if you were going to court. And don't wear shorts. I mean, a full. I mean, if you don't want to wear a dress shoes, I mean, I guess you don't have to do that. But I will say there's a certain mindset.

Leh Meriwether: When you put on like a suit, if you're a guy, and you dress very formally, it changes the mindset for your hearing. You're going to talk differently. You're like, "I am ready to go." Whereas if you're very casual, you may not be in the right frame of mind to present your evidence. That's something that personally impacts me, that how I'm dressed can impact my level of my presentation.

Todd Orston: I agree, but I'm going to hit it from a different angle. You are showing the court respect.

Leh Meriwether: Yup.

Todd Orston: And you want to walk into that process, into that hearing, you want to be showing the judge that you take this seriously. And I know you were joking, but if you are in your pajamas, if you've got a t-shirt that says, "I got trashed at Jekyll Island," or something like that, then that sending the wrong, probably wrongest, I know that's not a word, but the wrong message to the judge.

Todd Orston: So now, do I care about the shoes? No. If the court can see your shoes, once again, you need to watch a video on how to record yourself because your feet should not be part-

Leh Meriwether: Your camera is way too far.

Todd Orston: Yeah.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah. Your camera is way too far-

Todd Orston: Or just angled in the wrong direction.

Leh Meriwether: Right.

Todd Orston: Look, you need to show the court respect. And I'm going to also say this. For women, does it need to be a super nice dress? No. Dress professionally. Dress nicely. A blouse, something like that, that just again, shows that you take the process seriously. Men, do you need a full suit and tie? My opinion, no. If you have an attorney and they tell you differently, fine. No, I don't believe that that's actually required. Meaning, a court's not going to look at that if you have a dress shirt on, and clearly it doesn't look like you just rolled out of bed, I think that is fine. Look professional. No t-shirts, things like that, where the judge is going to be like, "Okay. This person just isn't taking this seriously."

Leh Meriwether: Yeah. And don't sleep in your dress shirt.

Todd Orston: All right. I don't think-

Leh Meriwether: Literally.

Todd Orston: I didn't think I had to go there, but all right, yes, don't sleep-

Leh Meriwether: I've seen some people come into court looking like they slept in their dress shirt.

Todd Orston: All right. Yes. Some people need to be introduced to an iron or a dry cleaner. I agree with that.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah. All right. So last thing on the preparation, and we're going to head into the practice. But wherever you're doing it, whether you're doing it from your house or you're doing it at the lawyer's office, make sure that you're sitting at a wide table, because that way if you have multiple screens, whether it's an iPad, whatever you have to set up multiple things, make sure you have a wide table because maybe you need paper exhibits to go through things. Some people work better with paper than digital.

Leh Meriwether: You need an area to spread out the exhibits because you will be asked questions about these exhibits. Spread them out so you can easily get access to them, and have it out there. And so speaking of exhibits, well, I mean, I guess the preparation of practicing start to blend together, but it's important to have all those exhibits done ahead of time. And we'll get into that.

Leh Meriwether: But that I wanted to hammer home, though, is the principles of trial presentation are the same. So the rules of evidence don't change in a virtual hearing. The process doesn't change. It may be a little bit more relaxed, but still there's an opening statement, there's direct questions, there's cross-examination questions, there's a break.

Leh Meriwether: The plaintiff gets to present their side, or the petitioner, or respondent, or defendant gets to present their side. And then there's closing arguments, unless the judge doesn't want closing arguments, but that's what you have with bench trial. Sometimes the court doesn't need closing arguments. Sometimes they don't object. But this process is going to be pretty much the same, whether you're in court or you are in a virtual hearing.

Todd Orston: Yeah. And-

Leh Meriwether: And so that's why… Oh, go ahead.

Todd Orston: No, that's why. I'm at the edge of my seat. That's why what?

Leh Meriwether: You said that's why.

Todd Orston: We're going to have to go back to the record, and yeah. Can you read back his last words?

Leh Meriwether: Yeah. Unfortunately, I have dual screens as we record this, and I have slides I'm going through, and unfortunately I changed the slide accidentally. So if I broke off, I apologize. See, we did not practice for this, and it's coming across Todd is absolutely very unprofessional today.

Leh Meriwether: I'll just skip. Yeah. So we did put together some thoughts. And knowing that we want to be professional, we want to end on the right note. When we come back, we're going to talk about what you can do to make sure you do a proper trial run.

Todd Orston: Hey, everyone. You're listening to our podcast, but you have alternatives, you have choices. You can listen to us live also at 1:00 AM on Monday morning on WSB.

Leh Meriwether: If you're enjoying the show, we would love it if you could go rate us in iTunes or wherever you may be listening to it, give us a five-star rating and tell us why you like the show.

Leh Meriwether: Welcome back everyone. I'm Lee, with me is Todd. We are your co-hosts for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com, and you can check out past episodes at divorceteamradio.com.

Leh Meriwether: So, we are talking about the three P's of virtual hearing: preparation, practicing, and performing. Now we're starting to pass beyond... I could talk today. See, that's why you need to practice, so you don't-

Todd Orston: Oh. I see a couple of reviews coming after that one.

Leh Meriwether: No. Well, practicing is actually part of preparation. You've got to do more than prepare, then you need to practice to go through a trial run. We're going to talk about, whether you're doing this on your own or you're meeting with your lawyer, here's what you should do.

Leh Meriwether: So if you have a lawyer, you need to schedule a trial prep meeting. I would do it probably two weeks, no less than five days before the trial, because you may realize there are some things missing. You do not want to do it the day before or just a few days before. And of that is because maybe you realize during this process that, wow, you haven't given all the… maybe there are some missing exhibits, because one of the things you want to be doing is putting together your entire exhibit list with numbers on them, because in these virtual hearings, it's even more important that ahead of time they're shared with the judge and they're shared with the opposing counsel.

Leh Meriwether: And the court's going to let you know how they want to process those documents, those exhibits, because the way I've seen it, but that doesn't mean that's what's going on in your county, where you live, but where I've seen it is lawyers put all the exhibits into a folder, whether it's a Dropbox folder or how whatever means they use to share this information, they send it to the judge. It goes into a folder on his or her desk.

Leh Meriwether: And then as those exhibits come up and they're asked to be presented into evidence, that's when the judge opens them. The opposing counsel is going to get them ahead of time, and the opposing counsel should do the same thing. They should be sharing with you the exhibits that are going to be used ahead of time.

Leh Meriwether: So that may be part of the coordination. Maybe when you schedule your meeting two weeks out with your lawyer, the exhibits from opposing counsel haven't come in yet. So you may have to have two meetings. You may have a meeting where you sit down with your lawyer and they ask you a bunch of practice questions, and you have a second meeting to go over practice questions perhaps from the exhibits from opposing counsel.

Todd Orston: Yeah. Very quickly, let me also say this. The other reason why it's so important is, a common frustration that I hear about is you end up in court and your counsel didn't ask something you thought they were going to ask, didn't present a document or a piece of evidence that you thought was important. You have to understand that attorneys, I mean, sometimes it's even on the fly. It's our job to think about strategy, what's important, what needs to be presented, but these meetings are so incredibly important because if something's important to you, you need to be able to express that to your attorney.

Todd Orston: You need to make sure ahead of time you've said, "Hey. These documents here, I'm really expecting you to hammer on this when we have this hearing." And if they don't want to, then that's fine, but that's going to open the door to that conversation, "Why don't you think this is important for me at my hearing?"

Todd Orston: So these trial prep meetings are incredibly important. And sometimes, unfortunately when you're working with an attorney, it doesn't always happen. There's too much on their plate, and next thing you know it's the day before trial, you haven't met with the attorney, and it's you're being told, "Okay. I'll meet you there at 9:00 in the morning," or, "I'll be on the call at 9:00."

Todd Orston: Well, I can tell you right now, don't allow to happen. I'm not saying be angry at the attorney. I'm simply saying, "Take control." Contact the attorney well ahead of time, and say, "This is my expectation. I'd like to have this meeting, and I'd like to do it five days, seven days, 10 days prior to the hearing, so we can iron out any of these wrinkles, and deal with any of these kinks that might affect my case."

Leh Meriwether: Right. Great point. I'm glad you added that. So along those same lines, you should put together, "Here's what I want out of this divorce," or whatever the hearing is. Whether it's a divorce, or custody case, or child support case, or any type of family law case or any trial for that matter, but you need to write down when the judge issues his or her ruling, what do you want the judge to say? What kind of parenting plan do you want to see, what kind of child support, what kind of alimony if that's an issue, the division of the marital assets and debts?

Leh Meriwether: Write all that stuff down, or meet with your lawyer and go through all those things, and then have your lawyer prepare a proposed order ahead of time. And you should review that to make sure that the judge has listed everything in there. Review it three, four, five times, because you never know what's going to happen. You never know if they're going to just forget something or leave something out, and go over the exhibits ahead of time.

Todd Orston: Yeah. Yeah, no, let me jump in for a second, because again, and I'm not I'm not saying it's wrong, but you're dealing with it from the point of view of somebody who has an attorney. So I'm going to speak for a moment to the people who don't.

Leh Meriwether: Right.

Todd Orston: And you may feel intimidated by the fact that, "Oh my gosh. I have to now put together a full legal order that the judge can sign off on," and you may not have the skill or feel like you have the ability to do that. All right. Stay calm. All right. I understand that the court understands that. And I don't think the court's going to expect you to come with a full order, but, but, but, but you need… excuse me, I'm getting all choked up... you need to go in there understanding what you're asking for, though.

Todd Orston: So there may be a big difference between the drafting of a formal order and going in and being very clear in what your ask is. All right. So if you are not able to put together that written order, okay. But when the judge looks at you in the Zoom call and says, "What are you asking this court to do?" you need to be 100% ready to say, "Well, here are the four core issues. There are custody issues. There are child support issues. There alimony issues and division of property issues."

Todd Orston: And you need to be able to go through each one of those. "For custody, this is what I'm asking: legal custody, physical custody, final decision-making authority. For child support, I've run the numbers. These are some of the things I need added. This is the number that I'm asking the court to accept." You need to be very prepared to present all of that information to the judge, and then the judge will worry about drafting that order.

Leh Meriwether: Right. So a great point. And here's another reason why you would want to do it, if you don't have an attorney to draft it, why you would want to do this. I heard from a judge, this is years ago, but I'll never forget it, she was presenting how to do effective opening statements. And she said that so often, not just pro se litigants, but also just lawyers come in to court and they give an opening statement but they don't say what they want or what they want for their client. And the judge is, the whole hearing, they're just taking notes but not any particular direction.

Leh Meriwether: And the funny thing is I never thought about this, because I always came to court, with very few exceptions, and there was a reason for that, but as a matter of habit I prepared proposed orders, going back to your point, Todd, I wanted to make sure I was on the same page with my clients. So I came to court with proposed orders, proposed findings, if it's that kind of hearing. And it just makes it easier for the judge.

Leh Meriwether: So let's say you don't do a formal order but you do do bullet points, like, here's what I'm asking the court to grant at the end of this hearing, you can share those as demonstrative aid to the court. In most cases, you need a double. Maybe the other side objects, but, "This is my proposed ruling, judge," and you go through those.

Leh Meriwether: Here's why. It forces you to organize your thoughts. It forces you to keep on track. It forces you to be thoughtful and come up with a reasonable solution that's a problem you're presenting to the judge, "Here's what we don't agree on. This is why we had to come to you. And here's how I would like you to rule."

Leh Meriwether: And then the court has some parameters. If the other side does it, too, like, "Oh, I understand where you're all going," now I'm going to hear if the evidence fits into whether what you're asking for is reasonable or not. And also, it helps you to remember, "Make sure you get in all that evidence." So you're like, "Oh, I want child support, judge, in the amount of $2,000 a month." Well, you need to make sure you present in evidence of how much money you make and how much money he or she makes.

Todd Orston: Yeah. If you don't present the right information, then… I mean, it's great, you can go and you can make some good arguments, but it's not about your argument, it's about the evidence. And it's like that with Zoom hearings, again, no different. Zoom hearings or hearings in court, you need to understand the process, if you're doing this on your own. An attorney is going to know how to do these things, hopefully, and will present the case the way it needs to be presented. Each attorney has different styles and all that, but they understand the importance of evidence.

Todd Orston: But if you're doing this on your own, do not think you're going to get a pass by going in and not really knowing what you're doing, thinking the judge is just going to say, "Well, they're a pro se litigant. They don't know what they're doing." Doesn't work that way. If you haven't proven something, then don't expect that you're going to win on that point.

Leh Meriwether: And when we come back, we're going to continue to explore this topic.

Leh Meriwether: I just want to let that if you ever want to listen to the show live, you can listen at 1:00 AM on Monday mornings on WSB. So you can always check us out there as well.

Todd Orston: Better than like counting sheep, I guess. Right?

Leh Meriwether: That's right.

Todd Orston: You can turn on the show, and we'll help you fall asleep.

Leh Meriwether: There you go.

Todd Orston: I'll talk very softly.

Leh Meriwether: Welcome back everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, with me is Todd Orston. We are your co-hosts for Divorce Team Radio, a show sponsored by the divorce and family law firm of Meriwether & Tharp. If you want to read more about us, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com, and you can get transcriptions of this shows and others at divorceteamradio.com. And today, we are talking about the three P's of a virtual hearing: preparation, practicing, and performing.

Leh Meriwether: We haven't gone into detail on really the full-blown trial part, because really the trial itself is pretty much the same, whether it's virtual or in-person. We are trying to go over the nuances, the challenges that a virtual hearing creates. And we are talking about preparation, of course, but we are not going into excruciating detail because that would put Todd to sleep.

Todd Orston: Too late.

Leh Meriwether: Okay. All right. So where we left off, we were talking about orders. I usually like to prepare my orders first, because then I'm, "No. Okay. Here's what I want the court to do. What documents do I need the court to see in order to achieve these things?" Because you can't just walk into court and say, "Judge, I want child support in the amount of a thousand dollars a month." No. You have to prove like, "Where did you come up with that?" So part of it is child support worksheets. Part of it is your domestic relations financial affidavit. Obviously, you have to have that done. We haven't gone into that, because you have to do that whether you're in-person or virtual.

Todd Orston: You're saying, back into the evidence, basically, think about what you're looking to accomplish, and then that will help you back into what evidence you need to prove what you need to prove.

Leh Meriwether: Exactly. And what that does is, because I've come to court, and I'm just going off of just past experiences, where I've come to court were just 30 exhibits because I did have a proposed order ready. And the opposing side came to court with over a hundred, but they only introduced like 15 or 20 because the other stuff just wasn't relevant, but they spent all this time putting together all these exhibits ahead of time.

Leh Meriwether: And when you put them together, you want to have a pre-numbered exhibit list. You want to have numbers on all your exhibits, because the judge has to have this stuff, and the opposing counsel should have it as well before the hearing.

Todd Orston: Well, and let me just say this. Every time I buy something online and it comes to my house and I build it, there's always extra parts. And I don't know why, but there's always a few extra screws and bolts. So going into court, you should have some extra potential exhibits, but not just because you don't know where to put them, it's actually, because sometimes there might be exhibits that you must use and then there might be some that you might be using to counter a potential argument that's going to be made.

Todd Orston: Or if an issue comes up or you don't know if it's going to come up, you have documents to either defend or to bring an issue that in some way is going to help your case. But the whole point that you're making is a great point, which is, be prepared. You could have the biggest table in the world and you have spread out all your documents, but if those documents don't help you win the case, they're not helpful. It's just taking up space.

Todd Orston: So be very deliberate in the documents that you are using, and be prepared. Have them numbered. Have them scanned. Have them ready to go. The last thing you want is when the judge says, "What do you want?" and you say, "Well, I have this evidence that proves this." And the judge says, "Okay. I'm waiting," and then you're sitting there scratching your head going, "How do I magically get this document into this machine to the judge, who is many miles from here?" Obviously, the court's not going to put up with that.

Leh Meriwether: They have certain spells for that.

Todd Orston: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Leh Meriwether: They don't know.

Todd Orston: I mean, most people don't know that about these judges.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah.

Todd Orston: Yeah.

Leh Meriwether: One spell is called email, and the other is like a shared Google Doc folder, and there's the Dropbox spell, too.

Todd Orston: Yup. It's a strong one. That is a strong spell. So you have to be prepared. You have to be organized. And what we're talking about in this show is how that hasn't changed from regular trials to virtual trials, what has changed is the methodology on how you can get your information to the judge in that virtual setting.

Leh Meriwether: Here's something else to keep in mind if you're not represented by an attorney. A lot of these judges have put together a proposed… not orders. Well, some are orders. But they have already put together, "Hey. Here's how we want you to get us your documents ahead of time." Some have been proactive.

Leh Meriwether: So if you're representing yourself, then you want to read what the law clerk or the judge's office has sent you before you call them, because maybe they've already answered all these questions. "We would like all the documents numbered ahead of time. We want them in our office. You can send it by Dropbox two days before trial."

Leh Meriwether: So it is critical you read whatever comes from the courthouse about how to make sure you can get all your evidence into court before the hearing. I'm not talking about the rules of evidence. Just to get those exhibits to the judge. If you don't get that, then you need to contact the court and ask, "How does the judge want me to get the documents to him or her before the hearing, so that they have them during the hearing?" Okay.

Todd Orston: Yeah.

Leh Meriwether: Everything from medical expenses. Here's an example. So let's say your dispute is about, someone hasn't paid medical expenses. Maybe it's a contempt hearing. I would just give some practical examples. So you want to have copies of all your receipts scanned in to a document and each one of them numbered. Maybe you have 10 receipts. Maybe you put them all into one exhibit, or they're all separate exhibits, however you can best put it.

Leh Meriwether: And maybe you highlight to the court. Maybe use a highlighter. And if you scan it, make sure you use a color where you can read what's on there. But you highlight what was owed. You put together what letter that you send to the opposing party to say, "Hey. I need your 50% of this medical expense." And then you even put together an Excel spreadsheet that just breaks down on these exhibits, "Here's what it is. He owes me or she owes me $2,000, which is 50% of $4,000," or something like that.

Todd Orston: Very quickly before you move on, I just want to comment. Sometimes you have to be very careful, because if you have a bank statement but you've written all over the bank statement, you've highlighted it, you've made notes on that piece of paper, potentially the other side can object that it's not in its original form when you're trying to put that evidence into play in the case. So be very careful.

Todd Orston: Oftentimes, I know I try and I tell clients that you need to try, "Get me clean documents. Let's put them into evidence in its pure form. And then we can add notes," meaning, we can then add something else, a spreadsheet or something that explains what it is you think that document shows and proves. So that would be the only caveat that I would add there.

Leh Meriwether: I'm glad you said that because that got my thinking, too. So, a part of your preparation should be, "How do I share my screen with the judge?" So if you're doing your closing argument or your opening statement, now keep in mind the difference between the two is opening statement is just telling the court the evidence you plan on presenting, what you're asking for, and what do you think the evidence is going to prove. You can't make argument.

Leh Meriwether: The closing is, "Hey, judge. They presented this evidence. I produce this evidence. Their evidence is not valid because of X, Y and Z, and my evidence is more valid because of A, B, C and D, and this is why you should accept mine." So that's where you get to argue, in closing argument.

Leh Meriwether: But one of the powerful things is to be able to pull up your exhibits on screen while you're doing your argument to the judge. So you want to make sure you know how to do that. So maybe you have this exhibit, and it's an email, and there is a critical line. Maybe the email is four paragraphs long, but there's one sentence in there that's really important, and you want to highlight to the court.

Leh Meriwether: In that closing argument, you can have… so maybe it's exhibit 10, and this is we're going to a whole new level now, but you can highlight on the document, say, "Judge, look at Exhibit 29, this email that was received on this date. I would like to highlight the sentence, where he admitted that he's not even going to ask me about any future medical treatments, he's just going to take action. And you know what, judge? He did. He did all this stuff, and he said he was going to do it. In this email, it's right here in the third sentence of the third paragraph."

Leh Meriwether: And so the court can easily see that. And it's very powerful in closing. It makes it easier for the judge to rule from the bench and say, "You know what? I'm finding you in contempt," or, "I'm changing custody," whatever you're asking the court for.

Todd Orston: Yeah. Look, we're coming up on the end of the show. The bottom line is: this is not the kind of situation where you're just showing up, that you're just pressing a couple of buttons. It's going to take preparation. And by preparation, I mean, not just having your case prepared, but understanding how the presentation is going to be handled in this new virtual area that we're dealing with.

Leh Meriwether: Practicing that presentation.

Todd Orston: Absolutely. So please, please, please, prepare accordingly. And hopefully, by doing so, you'll get the best results.

Leh Meriwether: Yeah. So practice it, practice what you're going to say, practice the questions you're going to ask, practice as if the judge is in front of you. And then the day of show up, be very professional, very courteous. And hopefully, that helps you win your case. Well, that about wraps up this show. Hey everyone, thanks so much for listening.

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