Video Conferencing Allows Public Defenders More Time with the Clients in Greatest Need

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video conferencine and public defenders

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.

Let’s hope you never have to hear those words outside the hyper-drama of your favorite cop show or movie. If you do, you very well could be one of the 90 percent of criminal defendants who need access to a public defender. This high volume of clients burdens publicly-funded attorneys and reduces their effectiveness.

Luckily, video conferencing has already lightened the load. It’s already widely used in the legal world and helping defendants most the most of their world-famous Miranda rights.

Pro Bono Video Conferencing

Video conferencing has a well-established record in providing remote testimony and communication within U.S. law courts. Although barriers remain, such as mandates that only high-end systems be used, a National Center for State Courts report found using video technology saved more than $31 million since its broad implementation, and that 80 percent of court representatives felt using such technology was an effective tool.

However, video conferencing can have a greater bearing on the pivotal stages prior to witness testimony. A Canadian group established a virtual legal clinic specially designed to aid women suffering from domestic abuse. The clinic serves as a first step rather than a method for actually engaging with the law, but offers free legal advice and referrals to family law specialists for women who can’t easily access legal services. California’s Pro Bono Project also makes extensive use of video conferencing, both in direct communication with clients, and in hosting virtual legal clinics which provides free online consultations with an expert.

Telecommuting through the Law

The most obvious way video conferencing can aid public defenders is by reducing travel costs.

Indiana public defenders have been using video conferencing technology for more than five years, and saved tens of thousands of dollars by meeting their clients via video calls. They used to visit correctional facilities ten times a month with a cost of $250 per trip, totalling a whopping $2,500 a month.

Telecommuting also reduces the need to maintain offices in rural and remote areas that have low demand for services. Equipping local courts and police stations, or other public centers, with video calling systems means clients can make their initial meetings online.

The falling cost of installing such systems, and the increasing proliferation and power of broadband networks, means widespread video conferencing is already a reality. Where systems once cost thousands of dollars, now reliable, high quality cameras and audio can cost hundreds–some even less than $100.

Saving Time with Video Conferencing

Less time travelling means more time with clients.

When high caseloads mean public defenders can be forced to spend as little as 10 minutes with a client, every minute saved is precious.

Video conferencing not only allows an attorney to remain in one place for the duration of their many client meetings, it also lets them streamline their documentation and interviews.

Even basic, free video conferencing services are equipped with screen and file sharing, virtual white boards, and Word compatibility features that make them an office unto themselves. It lets defenders keep interview records–and you can record many video conference calls now, too–case files, and a client’s personal details within a single digital source. And that source can be shared through remote access cloud computing, making the transition to a different defender easy.

Public attorneys need support from court administrators, police and custodial organizations, and the private legal system to increase video conferencing use. Public clients are going to need access to computers or their smartphones to converse with their representation.

This support will be necessary in the future so public defenders can do the highest quality work for every one of their clients.

Image Source: Flickr CC User Keith Allison

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