The closing of some courthouses due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has pushed many people into a new personal frontier they aren’t quite prepared for by having to make appearances in virtual hearings. But by planning ahead and making sure some minor preparations are done, this often-uncomfortable forum can work in your favor. Regardless if you are an attorney or appearing on your own behalf, these tips can help you look your best and be more effective.
Take The Tech Factor Out
To effectively participate you must have the proper technology available and reliable Wi-Fi. Test out the Wi-Fi connections, audio, and picture quality ahead of the hearing. Judges are people too and are not immune to getting frustrated with people who are not adept at using basic technology. You don’t want their frustration to bleed over into the findings in your hearing.
Be A Great Scout: Be Prepared
Make sure you understand the court systems and requirements so you can join the hearing with ease. This will also help keep your nerves at bay, and allow you to focus on responding effectively with the judge. Understand, how you will access and share documents. If additional phones or computers are needed, already have them fully powered and opened to those documents. Also, make sure you can communicate with your client or attorney without the opposing side or the Court hearing your conversation. This can be done via text or email.
Dress for Success
The format for a remote hearing can make the appearance seem more casual, especially if you are doing it from your kitchen table. Resist the urge to dress too casually and dress professionally. The way you feel about your appearance will impact how you act, so dress how you want to be perceived. Business casual should be the most casual clothing you wear for any hearing whether it is live or online. Avoid wearing busy patterns and loud colors. Patterns such as houndstooth can even appear wavy and distorted in the video. Try to avoid anything that can be distracting.
Perception Is Reality
Unlike in live court appearances, the judge has an up-close and personal look at you in virtual hearings. Take time to ensure that the camera for the hearing is centered on you (avoid the camera shooting upward most of all – err on it shooting downward if anything). A good rule of thumb is to place the camera at eye level and arms length away. If you must use a phone, do not hold it. Put it on a table or a shelf to stabilize it. If you are using a microphone, have the microphone on a stand. That will help prevent you from nervously moving it about and looking uncomfortable while causing the audio quality to vary. The more comfortable you can make the experience for you, the more comfortable the judge will be as well.
Make sure the lighting doesn’t cast shadows on your face. It sounds cliché but that can make you appear shifty or untrustworthy. To avoid this, don’t have a light source overhead or behind you. Try to use a room with a window and sit facing the window. Make sure you don’t have a chair that swivels and avoid standing or pacing during the hearing.
Keep in mind that the judge will likely have a better look at your facial expressions, your body language and your reactions in a video hearing than when you are in a courtroom. Make sure you are aware of what messages your nonverbal communications are sending. Also, try to avoid any odd ticks or repetitive arm or leg movements.
If you are at your home for the virtual hearing, be aware of the backdrop behind you. What does it say about you? If is it messy and disorganized, those qualities could be attributed to you by the judge. Are there pictures of you drinking or acting inappropriately? Make sure your backdrop is sending the message you want to send about your home and who you are. Try to position yourself at least two feet away from the nearest wall, so the backdrop doesn’t become distracting regardless of what it looks like. Try to avoid using the kitchen area because it can echo or sound hollow. Instead, try to use a room that has carpet and large furniture that will absorb the sound.
Avoid Unnecessary Frustrations
Initially ask the court if they can hear you. There can be a delay when you are having a virtual hearing, so take a longer than usual pause before asking a question or responding to one. If for some reason, you talk over the opposing party, or the judge, apologize and wait a few seconds to make sure they are done speaking.
Remember to mute yourself when you are not speaking. The last thing the court wants to hear is you talking offline while the proceeding continues. Be careful what you say during these appearances. Always assume the microphone is live.
Submit as many admissions in writing to the court that you will need prior to the hearing. That way the judge has all the relevant information needed in the case before them at the time of the hearing. Their time is at even more of a premium while the courts are closed. Use it wisely and that will be appreciated.
Like anything else, the more you can practice virtual hearings the more comfortable you will feel. Take a couple of deep breaths and you’ll be ready when the cameras start to roll.