“I am not a cat.” Lessons from the Zoom Courtroom

Have you seen this?! A lawyer was participating in a Zoom courtroom proceeding but couldn’t figure out how to turn off his Zoom filter. And, yes, he showed up to the proceedings as a cat.

The judge says, “Mr. Ponton, I believe you have a filter turned on in the video settings. You might want to turn that off.”

Mr. Ponton says, “I’ve got my assistant here. She’s trying to remove it. But I’m prepared to go forward with it.”

HE’S PREPARED TO GO FORWARD WITH THE CASE AS A SAD-LOOKING CAT?

And then the judge begins trying to explain how to remove the filter.

Once you get beyond the fact that this is really pretty funny, it can give you chills. What if it happened to me?!

Or, even worse, what if I hired a lawyer to represent me and it happened to him or her?! I’m pretty sure I’d never hire that lawyer again.

Also… come on, now. He needs his assistant to remove the filter? Has he spent ZERO time getting to know how to participate in a Zoom meeting?

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most adorable proof you will ever see confirming that lawyers must be continuous learners. Lawyers must keep up with the technological tools being used in the legal industry, even (especially) in a pandemic.

In a Bloomberg Law video based on this experience, several judges provided tips on how to avoid online courtroom pitfalls.

These judges offered quite a bit of good advice, but my favorite was at the end. (Don’t skip ahead! All of the tips are good.)

How to Avoid Online Courtroom Pitfalls

1. Double check everything.

  • Check your connections beforehand and make sure everything is running smoothly.
  • Make sure your lighting is good. You don’t want to look like you’re in the witness protection program.
  • If your client doesn’t speak English, make sure your interpreter is ready and online before the hearing, too.

2. A virtual courtroom is still a courtroom.

  • Behave as though you are in person, in a courtroom. (Do not login while you are still in bed and not properly dressed.)
  • Assume your microphone is always on. (Lawyers have been caught cursing when they thought their mic was off.)
  • Remember that the courtroom – even a Zoom courtroom – is a place of formal, solemn proceedings. “No black leggings and purple fuzzy socks.”

3. Adjust for the medium.

  • Don’t interrupt a judge just because you’re online. Behave as you would in the courtroom.
  • “Crisp your arguments.” Judges get Zoom-fatigue, too! Make your big points first.

4. Eliminate distractions

  • Lock your door so no one else walks in.
  • “I don’t want to meet your puppy. I don’t want to hear your puppy.”
  • Make sure you have a respectful background. Virtual backgrounds can be distracting

And the most important tip of all:

5. Keep your skills fresh. Virtual hearings are here to stay.

  • “The biggest pet peeve for me is people saying they’re not good at tech and they think that is an excuse not to learn. Lawyers especially need to invest the time in learning how Zoom hearings work. That’s just part of their practice and part of being a professional.” – Justice of the Peace, Nicholas Chu, Travis County, TX
  • Be a professional. Keep learning!

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