The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the way law offices and courts are doing business. They’re all still open, but meeting with clients and parties remotely, such as through online videoconferencing services like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Other courts are using platforms like WebEx. If you have attended a hearing or mediation before, you know what to expect, but what should you expect now? As this is unprecedented, we thought some tips may be useful:
- Dress Code. You and your attorney have likely discussed what you should wear to court. If you have a virtual hearing, you should plan to wear whatever you were going to wear before. Your judicial officer will likely be wearing a robe as he/she is presiding over a hearing. They are taking it seriously, and you should too. Although you may not plan to stand up during your hearing, things sometimes happen out of our control, so resist the urge to wear pajama pants even if they can’t be seen on camera.
- Distractions. As difficult as it may be during this time, try to eliminate distractions, including people and pets, from your surroundings while you attend the hearing. This means that you may have to call someone to come watch the kids, so that “little ears” aren’t hearing testimony regarding their parents or that kids have extra screen time. Try to sit in an area of your house or workplace that is not high-traffic so that there aren’t people going back and forth behind you. It’s distracting to you and to everyone in your hearing. Even consider sitting in your car!
- Background. Again, this is a judicial proceeding. You wouldn’t testify from your bed or in a swimming pool, so try not to do so now. Check yourself on camera before going live. Is there anything in the background that would be questionable or incriminating? Take a quick scan and remove anything that you wouldn’t want your boss to see.
- Conduct During the Hearing. Put yourself on “mute” unless you are speaking. Background noise can be picked up even if you think it’s very soft. Dogs bark and kids yell sometimes, even when we tell them how very important it is that they be quiet. Would you be eating during a hearing? Smoking or vaping? No, you would not even think of doing any of those things in the courtroom. Again, imagine that you actually ARE in the courtroom and behave accordingly. There’s no smoking, vaping, or eating at the witness stand. The judge can still see you, even if you’re not in person. Don’t do it.
- Communication with Your Attorney. Touch base with your attorney ahead of the hearing as you may not have as many opportunities to discuss your testimony during the hearing. Exchange cell phone numbers so that you can text your attorney with any questions or thoughts as the hearing occurs. And if you need to talk with your attorney before the end of the hearing, ask for an opportunity to do so. You can put yourself on mute and contact your attorney to be sure you have covered everything.
- Be careful. Even if you are muted, remember that sometimes what you say can be understood just by reading your lips. Wait to express your frustration over the hearing or your ex until AFTER the virtual hearing. You’re not officially out of it until you hit “Leave Meeting” or “Quit” or “Exit.” Don’t presume that no one is listening or watching your conduct, even if the judge has signed off.
If you have a virtual hearing coming up and aren’t sure how to handle it, the attorneys of Wanzer Edwards can help. Contact us at (317) 454-8088 or firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a “contactless” consultation, either via phone or videoconference.