So, you have court soon. And as if court isn’t stressful enough already, you wonder what to expect in this COVID-19 era of virtual…well everything. Like many events of late, chances are your court hearing will be virtual as well. For many courts, virtual hearings will continue well into 2021. But virtual court comes with complications and pitfalls, most of which attorneys have never faced before this era of virtual court. Here are few helpful hints to consider PRIOR to your virtual hearing:
1. Coordinate office logistics
If you have an attorney, coordinate well in advance where the attorney would like you to attend. We typically request that clients meet us in our office for a virtual hearing, but this is not always possible or advisable. It is best to have these conversations early. If you plan to bring a friend or family member for support, they may have to wait outside. Attorneys should coordinate witness logistics as well.
2. Test the IT
Test the IT. Test the IT. Boy can this one be important. Test the internet, the speakers, and the camera. Ensure you can get on zoom or the video conferencing app. Make sure you can show video exhibits to those that need to see it, and play audio exhibits so everyone can hear. If you are using a portable device, ensure you are close to an outlet in case the hearing runs longer than expected.
3. Be Professional
There is a tendency to be overly informal with a virtual hearing. Clients forget where they are and say and do things they would never say or do in a regular courtroom (like going to the bathroom while testifying…oops: https://www.kctv5.com/news/us_world_news/supreme-embarrassment-the-flush-heard-around-the-country/article_027517ef-96f7-5a1a-a8b4-75fe87d897c8.html). Dress like you would for in-person court, which is typically business casual or business attire depending on the advice of counsel.
Remember common courtesy like saying “your honor” to the judge. And most of all, remember that everything you say is “on the record” and “under oath,” which can be easy to forget when the judge is sitting in his kitchen in plain clothes, or when attorneys may not be in suits. Don’t be fooled; virtual court is every bit as serious as in-person court, and your demeanor and professionalism should reflect this.
4. Learn Zoom Etiquette
When you are not talking, put your microphone on silent. If you have dogs or kids, ensure they are secure and not audible. Of course, silence your phone. You may even consider turning your phone off or move it to another room to prevent interference with your speakers. Try not to interrupt, which is easy to do with audio delays.
5. Consider the setting
Depending on the circumstances of the case, it may be wise to remove all controversial background items or images pertaining to alcohol, guns, etc. Most virtual platforms have options in place to choose a fake background, and this may be advisable. Make sure you have privacy, and won’t be interrupted for the entire court hearing by kids, dogs, the phone, knocks on the door, etc.
We hope this provides some practical guidance and insight into this brave new legal world. We anticipate that some of these virtual alterations will not stop with Covid. In some circumstances, judges and attorneys have found virtual court to be successful, and it is likely virtual hearings will continue in some regard when this pandemic ends.
If you need help with your case, contact us today for a free initial consultation.