Most courts quickly adopted holding remote hearings and it is likely a trend that is to stay beyond COVID-19. In order for these proceedings to feel as “normal” and engaging as possible, it is imperative that attorneys and litigants treat the proceedings the same way as if they were appearing in the courtroom and be as prepared as possible.
First, familiarize yourself with the tech. Make sure you are familiar and comfortable with the technology and/or platforms you will be using, have the proper equipment and internet connection and give yourself plenty of time to login. If you have never used Zoom or Skype before, run a practice session to ensure that your video and microphone are working properly. You can also use this practice-run to see exactly what is within your camera’s view in your home, or to set a remote background. There are many online resources, such as videos on YouTube, which provide tutorials and videos regarding use of the various platforms. Run through a check-list, again easily found online, to ensure you have done everything you can ahead of time to ensure there will not be any interruptions in your internet connection. Gather and have easily accessible the cell phone numbers of the other attorneys, if any, who will be attending the hearing so you can communicate with them in the event of a problem. Don’t be the attorney who gets the reputation for always having technology problems, but be patient and understanding if others in the proceeding are having difficulties (we’ve all been there!). Log on early so you have time to troubleshoot and correct any problems before the proceedings start or get assistance from someone who can help you. In the event you are finding that you continually have trouble, invest in taking the time and probably some money to get help from an IT professional and if needed invest in some additional equipment such as a new computer, microphone or camera or upgrade your internet service.
Second, prepare others. Your own preparation is important, but if other people (clients, witnesses, etc.) will be attending the remote hearing with you, make sure they are prepared as well. They should also be familiar with use of the technology prior to the hearing and have the necessary equipment and internet connection. On top of the regular preparation you normally conduct, do a test run on the platform you will be using well in advance of the day of the hearing. After all, it can be harder for witnesses to express themselves in a remote proceeding, and a lot of nuance can be lost through technology. Thus, preparation of clients and/or witnesses is imperative to the success of any hearing, but particularly a remote hearing. It is your responsibility, as the attorney, to ensure that they are just as prepared and connected as you are.
Third, give the proceeding your full attention. Find a quiet place from which you can participate in the hearing. While some background noise may be unavoidable, try to limit it along with foreseeable distractions from children, pets, your spouse, roommates, and multitasking. Use headphones and/or a microphone during the remote proceeding to help limit any distracting background noise and help ensure your voice comes across clearly. Close unnecessary windows and applications on your computer and turn off ringers and notifications to limit sound interruptions and distractions. Put your phone away and listen carefully. Ask your client and witnesses to do the same.
Fourth, act the part. Remember remote hearings are still court proceedings in front of a judge. Get out of bed (Yes, I have heard of attorneys appearing before a judge in a remote hearing in bed!), wash your face, brush your hair and dress appropriately. Be prepared, put your phone away and give it your undivided attention just as you would if you were appearing physically in the courtroom.
Finally, be patient. While we are all getting more and more used to remote work each day, everyone in attendance from the attorneys to the judge is still adjusting. Be patient with others who are not as prepared as you are, who do not have as reliable internet connections, or who are becoming frustrated with the “new normal.” Not only can this be important in presenting yourself favorably before a judge and building your professional reputation, but it gives us all an opportunity to build a better legal community as a whole.