You have probably heard about the attorney who could not turn off a silly cat filter during a Zoom court hearing. The #CatLawyer video went viral and many of us had a pretty good laugh over it. As an attorney myself (I am not a cat either, by the way), I thought this was a funny moment, but I also felt sympathetic towards the attorney. Who hasn’t had a similar moment in a meeting where you were interrupted by a child, a pet, or you simply weren’t familiar with the technology? I want to help you avoid becoming the next “cat lawyer.” Here are five tips to keep in mind the next time you need to appear in court by Zoom:
1. Get Comfortable with the Technology
Become familiar with the technology before your Zoom hearing. Learn how to turn on and off your audio and video. Ensure that your microphone and camera are working properly. Check your video settings by clicking on the arrow next to the Start/Stop Video icon. Be sure to have any camera filters and silly backgrounds turned off. All of these small, but important, steps could make a huge difference in the result of your hearing. The more you are able to master this technology, the more professional and persuasive you will be. The court will appreciate your efforts if you are able to appear for your Zoom hearing on time with working video and audio.
2. Be in an Appropriate Location
Most courts in Northeast Wisconsin are using Zoom for their remote hearings. This is nice because Zoom is easy to use and very accessible since it is a free app. The problem with making things accessible is that there is a temptation to meet anywhere you are in that moment. This is not a good idea when the Zoom meeting you are attending is a court hearing. When you appear for a hearing by Zoom find a place that is private, quiet, and looks relatively professional. Avoid places where people are talking in the background or may interrupt you. In my experience, judges will have some patience with mild interruptions, but you do not want to test that patience if you can avoid it. If you are represented by an attorney, then meeting on camera with your attorney in the attorney’s office is ideal. It also gives you an opportunity to securely confer with your attorney during the hearing if needed.
3. Remember the Formalities
Zoom hearings tend to be more informal than hearings that occur in person. This makes sense when the hearing is shorter and tends to revolve around less controversial topics, such as scheduling. Despite this urge it is important to resist the temptation to treat a court hearing like any other Zoom meeting. Zoom hearings are still court proceedings. Often times these hearings are still on the record and the formalities of being in the courthouse still apply to the virtual hearing. Witnesses will still have to stand and raise their right hand when sworn in. The judge will still expect you to not talk or be distracting during the proceedings. It is still expected that only one person talks at a time. It is also expected that you appear on camera, especially if you are a party in the action or giving testimony, so you must dress appropriately. These items seem small, but it’s easy to forget these basic practices when you are sitting in an informal setting rather than the formal courtroom.
4. Learn How to Submit Evidence
Proving your case and submitting evidence is more than giving the judge a stack of papers during a court hearing. There are critical rules about how to present evidence that all parties (even non-lawyers) must follow. One of the most basic rules that needs to be followed is that all parties in the case need to be able to review evidence before it is submitted. It’s also generally preferred that records that a witness is testifying about are seen by the witness, opposing counsel, and the court when the witness is testifying. When there is an in person hearing this is done by simply having enough photocopies of the document to hand out in the courtroom. Unfortunately, this is not as simple in a virtual hearing. One of the more common rules that I have come across is that all potential exhibits that would be submitted at the virtual hearing need to be filed with the court and sent to opposing parties at least three days prior to the hearing. Check the local court rules for how the court you are appearing in handles the submission of evidence.
5. Be Prepared
The lawyers on television make it look so easy. They show up, dress cool, and say something moving and mystically win the case. Real life isn’t quite like that. Being persuasive comes from mastering the facts and the law in order to present the case in the best way possible. This is true of all cases, but being prepared takes on even more importance in the virtual environment. A virtual hearing is going to have limitations on your ability present your case, not the least of which will be limits on your time and the judge’s attention span while listening to the case in a less than ideal environment. The best way to push past this is to make sure you know exactly what you want to present to the court and doing so in as efficient a manner possible. Preparation goes a long way in knowing the strong points of your case and making those strong points as persuasive as possible.
Although we are hopeful that the pandemic will be ending in the near future, we know that some form of Zoom hearings could stay for the long term. Advances in technology and the need for more efficient systems to manage court schedules may make Zoom hearings a permanent fixture. Following my Zoom etiquette tips can help you have a successful Zoom hearing and save you from becoming the next “cat lawyer.”
The changes to how the courts conduct hearings is going to make hiring the right attorney in Wisconsin more critical than ever. If you are facing a situation that requires court action in Wisconsin, contact the attorneys at Peterson, Berk & Cross, S.C. in Appleton and Green Bay to schedule a free consultation to discuss how we can help.
About the Author
Attorney Devin Shanley has almost a decade of professional experience working in family law, estate planning and elder law, and has served as a Guardian ad Litem. Devin has a commitment to seeing each case as something beyond a legal puzzle to solve. When meeting with clients, he wants to understand the relationships and family dynamics that need to be preserved to have an optimal outcome. Devin primarily focuses his law practice on wills, powers of attorney, trusts, guardianships and elder law planning. The estate planning section at Peterson, Berk & Cross, S.C. offers a FREE, 30-minute consultation.