Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom and other virtual court hearings have become the norm.
This new format, which can be more convenient for everyone involved than a traditional, in-person hearing, presents its own challenges.
In this post, we offer ten (10) valuable tips for making your Zoom court appearance a successful one.
1. Save Your Zoom Link Somewhere Safe!
Typically, you will receive a Zoom or other virtual platform access link before the date of the hearing.
The email with the link will be far too easy to delete accidentally, misfile, have spam-flagged by your email service provider, or otherwise lose.
Be sure you store that link in an easy-to-find location so that you are not scrambling to find it immediately before the start of the hearing.
Put in your Google or Outlook calendar along with the meeting event itself, or save a shortcut to the link on your computer desktop.
The last thing you need is to have to sort through 7,000 Amazon, Best Buy, or Sierra Trading Company promo emails to figure out how to access your meeting when the clock is ticking.
2. Ensure that Your Zoom Profile Picture Is Appropriate
Second, Zoom enables you to assign a profile picture to your account profile.
Make sure that this picture is appropriate. Avoid overly personal photos—especially those which might compromise your bankruptcy or other case, such as a photo posed with a luxury car.
Generally, you would not want to use something that is offensive or embarrassing as a Zoom profile picture during a court hearing.
You can delete or update such photos in your Zoom account profile.
3. Ensure that Your Zoom Background Is Also Appropriate
You should also ensure that your Zoom background is also appropriate.
It may be the case that, in Zoom, you have selected a background photo that should be scrutinized as well.
If you would like to mask your physical background for the Zoom hearing, there is nothing wrong with that—and it could be highly advisable. If you’re appearing for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy hearing, it might not be wise to appear for your hearing while at the beach on the French Riviera.
However, be mindful of the photo you choose as a background for the same reasons as those discussed above with regard to profile photos.
If you are not using a Zoom background (and they sometimes just don’t work very well), ensure that there is nothing crazy going on in the background.
Be in a location that allows solitude. Do not sit where people are walking around behind you.
Be in an environment with neutral décor. Do not have anything strange hanging on the walls. Don’t be at a sporting event trying to attend a Zoom hearing.
This is a court hearing. You want to dress and act as if you were walking into a courtroom, even though it is being conducted remotely.
4. Watch the Background Noise!
It may go without saying, but make sure that you eliminate or limit your background noise if possible.
If, for some reason, you are in your car, be sure to pull over to the side of the road or park during the hearing.
Be sure that no one is watching TV or listening to music anywhere near you. Keep children and pets as far away as possible.
Again, if it were not for COVID, you would be taking time off from both work and your busy home-life to attend the hearing in person. If your hearing was being conducted in person at the courthouse, people making noise might be ejected immediately by a courtroom bailiff.
Carve out the necessary time in your calendar to be away from work, away from family—and in a suitably quiet and controlled location—just as you would if you were required to attend in person.
5. Dress Appropriately
Of course, this also means dressing appropriately.
Do not wear your pajamas to the Zoom hearing.
Whether at the state level or at the Federal bankruptcy level, Courts have local rules regarding appropriate dress for those appearing in that forum.
Unless your lawyer tells you that your court has rescinded that rule for Zoom hearings, do not dress differently than you would for a live, in-person judicial proceeding.
Live or via Zoom, you should dress neatly, even if casually. Generally, only lawyers need to wear a suit—but, again, this will differ from court to court.
Check with your lawyer.
6. Behave Appropriately
Do not smoke, drink, eat, speak to other people in your vicinity, or wash the dishes during these virtual court proceedings.
Just sit quietly and pretend that you are in an actual courtroom.
Is it boring? Yes. Just like an actual courtroom. (Even murder trials are boring after opening arguments conclude.)
7. Ensure that Your Internet Connection Is Strong
Ensure that you are attending the Zoom hearing in a location with a good internet connection. Test it before the hearing and practice with it.
If you know that your location has a poor internet connection, find a place with a better connection well in advance of the hearing.
8. Ensure That Your Camera Works
Make sure you have a camera that works, especially if you will be testifying in the hearing.
Make sure that the court and judge can see your face.
Remember to ensure in advance that you don’t have a crazy Zoom filter that you don’t know how to disable.
Did you catch the viral video of the lawyer in court who couldn’t turn off the kitty-cat filter during a court hearing?
It’s very funny—but you don’t want this to be you.
9. Maintain Attorney-Client Confidentiality
One of those most essential characteristics of the attorney-client relationship is the maintenance of confidential information.
Client confidentiality can be blown in 1 second flat during a Zoom hearing.
In advance of the hearing, you will need to develop a plan with your lawyer so that you can communicate privately during the hearing without revealing the content of that communication to the other participants.
One thing that you do not want to do is utilize the Zoom chat window for any such communications.
When you use Zoom’s chat window, your message is viewable by all participants if you don’t private-message your lawyer.
Even if the Zoom chat window has the private or direct-message feature, it has been demonstrated that if the Zoom meeting is being recorded, even private chat messages may be readable by anyone in the recorded playback video.
Avoid the use of the Zoom chat window at all costs.
Texting with your lawyer during the hearing will work well if discussed in advance and so long as you aren’t using that same phone to access the Zoom hearing.
Your lawyer will discuss this with you, but it is something of which you should be aware.
10. Be Patient!
Finally, Zoom hearings do not always start on time. (For that matter, live court hearings sometimes don’t start on time, either!)
Before a Zoom or other virtual hearing, reach out to your lawyer to ensure that you have a good understanding of what is going to take place—and how.
Occasionally, when you log in at your appointed time, you may find a Zoom screen reading “The host has not yet started this meeting,” or you may be shunted into a Zoom waiting room immediately upon log-in.
Different courts handle these virtual hearings differently.
Your court may have a hearing in front of yours that hasn’t entirely completed.
Some courts allow everyone to appear during the Zoom call all at once. Some may put you into a breakout room until it is your turn. It all depends.
Following these basic tips will help to make your Zoom meeting a success and will enable you to make your best case before the court.
If you take the Zoom proceeding as seriously as you would an in-person hearing, you will at the very least be putting your best foot forward for the judge, making him or her all the more receptive to your actual legal argument.
The last thing you want when arguing to save your home or even your freedom is to be doing it with a kitty-cat filter.