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November 2001
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Video Conferencing

No Takers, So Far, For Videoconferencing Options in Suburbs of NYC

By Carlyn Kolker

No Takers, So Far, For Videoconferencing Options in Suburbs of NYC ON OCT. 4, the Nassau County Supreme Court, a New York state trial court on Long Island, announced that it would let lawyers conduct their calendar calls by videoconference.

But so far, nobody's jumped at the opportunity.

The order grew out of logistical disruptions in the aftermath of the World Trade Center hijack attack on Sept. 11. (It's a bit difficult to get in and out of Manhattan and surrounding areas because of traffic restrictions and congestions.) Nassau County Supreme Court administrative judge Edward McCabe says he extended the offer to telecommute to alleviate these troubles.

But don't give up on videoconferencing just yet. Earlier this year, the same court launched a pilot project to set up some routine court calls by videoconferencing.

Six lawyers for State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. participated in the initial experiment. They appeared in more than 100 calls in about four months, says James Nunemaker Jr., managing attorney in the Uniondale, N.Y., office of State Farm. Most of the cases were auto-related personal injury insurance claim cases.

The main advantage of videoconferencing, Nunemaker says, is that it saves time. Attorneys typically spend an hour or two waiting for their case to get called. In the pilot, the judge set up a specific time for videoconferencing calls, and sessions were punctual.

Nunemaker says State Farm is not necessarily going to experiment again with videoconferencing in Nassau County anytime soon. (The State Farm office is just four miles from the court.) But the insurer would consider videoconferencing with other distant courts, he says.

There are some hitches. Video-conferencing may be convenient, but cross-examining a witness from 3,000 miles away on a video monitor isn't what most lawyers dream of in law school. Even though the herky-jerky movements have been smoothed out in the latest generation of equipment, it's still a second-hand experience.

Both the courtroom and the lawyer's office must have the proper equipment. And the videoconferencing companies frequently charge a hook-up fee for each use. The expense may explain why the calendar-call experiment hasn't taken off. The Nassau County courthouse is wired for videoconferencing. (This set-up was done at the court's expense.) Only two rooms have been used for videoconferencing so far.

Lawyers must pay about $150 to Expedite Video Conferencing Services Inc., for each Nassau County appearance. Part of any proceeds from calendar calls by videoconferencing will go the disaster relief effort.

Lawyers who connect with the Nassau County court do not need to have Expedite technology in their own offices. Videoconferencing equipment is like telephone equipment. Different brands work just fine with each other.

"As long as the videoconferencing technology meets the standards ... people can talk anywhere in the world," says Larry Roher, president of Expedite.

Carlyn Kolker is a technology reporter for American Lawyer Media Inc.

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