8 Ways to Prevent Your Zoom Hearing from Going Boom.
If you have a choice between doing a telephone conference or a Zoom hearing in a case, go with Zoom.
You’ll be much more persuasive if you’re seen as well as heard.
But be careful: if you don’t take the time to prepare, your Zoom could go Boom.
“Many believe an increased reliance on remote hearings will become a lasting movement,” writes attorney and trial consultant Britta Stanton for the National Law Review. “Even if the reliance on virtual platforms doesn’t sustain beyond the pandemic, attorneys must now become proficient in the use of remote tools and resources.”
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Virtual hearings have become ubiquitous. State and federal courts across the country are conducting hundreds of thousands of hearings via audioconferencing and videoconferencing. Sometimes the court mandates the platform – video, audio, or written briefs – to be used. Other times, the attorneys are given input into how to conduct the hearing.
“Because your ability to persuade will be so greatly enhanced if the judge can perceive visual cues, I recommend you politely request a hearing by video,” writes Stanton, a former faculty member at the National Institute of Trial Advocacy. “If your judge doesn’t typically use video or teleconferencing, you may want to offer direct help in setting it up, and be sure to provide the judge with clear instructions on how to install and operate within the platform. There is no guarantee that the judge will agree to your request, but it would be foolish not to at least ask.”
Here are some tips Stanton offers to prevent a Zoom disaster:
- Test your system. “Even if you are sure it works, test it 10 minutes before your hearing,” she writes. “Test your technology system, camera, and graphics presentations.”
- Give the judge plenty of room. “Give the judge extra space around his or her words to avoid talking over him or her. Unintended cross-talk can be even more annoying to the court on video than it is in a live courtroom. Use the mute button when you’re not speaking, but make sure you have a fast trigger-finger for objections during any evidentiary hearings.”
- Prepare your presentation. “Ums and ahs can become particularly annoying to listeners when heard over an audio system,” Stanton says. “Besides, there is little excuse for a disjointed oral presentation, since you can have your notes in front of you as you sit at your computer. If you do use notes, don’t forget to continue to look up and make eye contact with your camera.”
- Prepare your witnesses. “Well in advance of the remote hearing, ensure that all participants are given directions concerning video installation and access.”
- Pay attention to presentation. “Set up your computer in a well-lit, quiet room, and make certain the background area the viewers will see is not visually distracting,” Stanton writes. “Limit the likelihood that pets, children, or other unexpected visitors or noises may interrupt the hearing. While working from home can be tricky these days, it’s important that the in-home hearing operates in as dignified a manner as if held in the courtroom. Interruptions from household members might not only impinge on the solemnity of the proceeding, they might cause its integrity to be called into question.”
- Use graphics if allowed. “Slides capture the attention of judges and other remote hearing participants. It can be tempting for viewers to get distracted and check emails when a person is speaking. Using captivating slides and graphics will keep their focus on your presentation. Slides convey the important points of the case, summarize it, and provide an overarching view. Visual images, such as timelines, graphs, and charts, inspire interest, and enable information to be locked in viewers’ minds.”
- Know the rules. “Check your local rules to ensure you meet any exchange deadlines for demonstratives. If there aren’t any, I recommend you ask the court coordinator or exchange any demonstratives with opposing counsel and send a copy to the judge in advance of your hearing.”
- Establish a back channel. Use Slack, text messaging or some other method to communicate with your team without disrupting the hearing. Make sure to turn off notifications in advance.
Jay Reeves is author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World. He practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. Now he writes and speaks at CLEs, keynotes and in-firm presentations on lawyer professionalism and well-being. He runs Your Law Life LLC, a training and consulting company that helps lawyers add purpose, profits and peace of mind to their practices. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-619-2441.