Like most industries that have found themselves in the middle of a global pandemic, the legal system has been forced to find a way to continue moving forward with proceedings even when it was no longer safe to meet in person. Thus, Zoom court was born.
Instead of delaying justice on millions of cases, many courts have chosen to hold court remotely with the help of applications such as Zoom. By making the move to virtual meetings, the overly full backlog has started moving again and participants have been kept safe and healthy.
While “Zoom Court” has many benefits, it has also brought its unique set of challenges and growing pains as lawyers, judges, and witnesses have been forced to learn online etiquette and overcome technological difficulties. While most of these mishaps have been dealt with with a large dose of grace and patience, it’s best to try to avoid them by being thoroughly prepared before and during the zoom court by following the list of dos and don’ts listed below.
Do Prepare Ahead of Time
Just like a lawyer would with regular court, it’s important to do everything possible ahead of time to be prepared for the court date. The major difference with zoom court is that a lawyer needs to be sure that they understand the following aspects of the virtual meeting:
- System being used: While most courts are using Zoom, others have chosen to use similar applications so this must be made clear upfront.
- Download appropriate application/software: Once the system is determined, everyone involved should download the appropriate app or software far in advance of the court date to avoid any technical problems the day of.
- Know the exact time and date: Since Zoom Court is virtual in nature, participants could be logging in from different time zones so it’s crucial that each individual knows the time, date, and time zone for court. Pro tip: legal practice management software, like PracticePanther, can automate your event reminders for both you and your clients so nothing falls through the cracks.
- Know the rules: Every court has its own set of rules so participants should make sure they’re aware of them beforehand to avoid any reprimands or fines. Major examples of this would be knowing if recording is allowed and the proper procedure for presenting exhibits.
Do Test, Test, and Test Again Before Zoom Court
By now, most people have seen the video of Texas lawyer Rod Ponton appearing in Zoom Court with an unfortunate cat filter over his face and no knowledge of how to remove it. While this has provided countless hours of laughter for the online community, it was no doubt embarrassing for the lawyer on the day of his trial. The best way to avoid this kind of misstep is to test your equipment, application, and settings beforehand.
- Check computer and app settings: The computer being used for Zoom Court should be fully charged with a backup cord available. The link to join the meeting should be pulled up and ready to be clicked on when the time comes to log on. Also, be aware that whatever background was used on the last zoom call will still be in use unless changed.
- Test all audio and video connections: Every jurisdiction will have its own requirements for how to join the meeting so it’s important to be aware of what they are. Some courts will allow a participant to join by phone, others will require a video feed so the person’s face can be seen. The audio should also be tested. It’s best to use headphones that have a microphone built in to limit background noise and feedback. Be sure that the judge and other lawyers can hear every person when they’re speaking and, when requested, be able to see them as well.
- Choose the proper location: Participants of a zoom meeting should always be mindful of what others will see behind and around them during the meeting. Is the lighting too bright or too dim? Is the background distracting in any way? Is the setting noisy? Anything that could cause a disruption during the meeting should be eliminated, if at all possible.
Do Be Ready on the Day of Court
By the time court day has rolled around, lawyers should be in good shape if they’ve worked through the previous tips ahead of time. However, there are still some key things to keep in mind to avoid any virtual faux pas and indiscretions. By keeping in mind that a Zoom Court date should be treated as professionally and seriously as a normal court date, the most common issues can be avoided.
- Dress appropriately: Perhaps the biggest “don’t” of this article is this: Don’t show up to Zoom court halfway dressed. Unfortunately, this happens more often than one would think and lawyers have been caught with their pants down – literally. Don’t assume that the video will only show from the waist-up, instead, dress as professionally (and fully) as you would for an in-person meeting.
- Secure your meeting area: Another viral video that has exhibited the challenges of zoom meetings from home shows a professional mid-meeting interrupted by his two children and nanny in the background. While the pandemic has forced many parents to deal with working from home with children under the same roof, it’s best to lock the door or make childcare arrangements when possible. This same principle applies to pets and any other elements that may disrupt court.
- Be early for court: When logging into Zoom Court, it’s always best to be completely logged on at least 10 minutes early. By doing this, one will have time to overcome any technical difficulties that may come up and can be settled before the judge appears.
- Mute your mic when not speaking: This is another very important tip to remember any time one is participating in a zoom meeting, especially when it’s court. Make a habit of keeping the mic on mute when not speaking to avoid feedback and unintentional eavesdropping. Just be sure to unmute the mic before speaking!
Do Be Prepared but Don’t Sweat Zoom Court
These are truly unprecedented times and the legal industry is having to make adjustments just like the rest of the world. Zoom Court was completely unheard of two years ago so it’s understandable that lawyers and judges are still getting used to the new technology and virtual etiquette.
Lawyers should use these tips to better prepare and hold strong in the fact they’ve been in court before, it’s just a different setting. Be prepared, remain professional, and bring a healthy dose of understanding for the mistakes that are nearly guaranteed to happen.