More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, courts across the country are slowly starting to open back up for hearings and trials. Even some hard-hit states such as New York are resuming in-person operations, including for non-essential matters, to ensure access to the justice system during this challenging time. While courts are slowly opening their doors again to non-essential matters, Zoom and other video conferencing apps are not likely to fade away, as many major firms are still working in a remote capacity for the foreseeable future.
While many attorneys have learned the basics of video conferencing—often through their own trial and error or the (sometimes viral) missteps of others—attorneys and legal professionals have a number of ways to project a qualified and confident appearance even when working from a spare bedroom or basement.
With regard to sound, be mindful of when you are not on mute. While courts often impose “mute all” on conferences, sometimes this is not possible. Ensure that you are muted when necessary, especially if you are on a calendar call and working while waiting to be heard. Video conferencing often has audio and/or video lag, so make sure that you pause before speaking, especially if answering questions. If you are in a room with your client or another attorney, try not to have two or more video conferencing applications running in the same room at the same time. When two or more active microphones are near each other, there will be feedback that makes it difficult to hear for everyone. Finally, shuffling papers and files create ambient noise that will make you nearly impossible to understand.
Neepa Sikdar, personal stylist and founder of Accessible Style, which is based in New Jersey, recommends that to maintain the professionalism and poise expected in a courtroom, attorneys should continue to wear what they would have worn when court was in-person, even when in a virtual setting. While this may mean changing out of the familiar sweatpants and loungewear we have all grown accustomed to, any movement of the camera won’t result in embarrassment by catching you in your pajama pants. While the hearings may be remote, the goal is the same—to make sure you come across as credible, and your point of view is accepted.
With regard to set up, make sure that you always have a good camera angle. The best camera angle for a remote appearance is head-on and eye level. While different cameras provide different viewpoints, you will want to ensure that you are able to view others straight on. Sikdar suggests that to fix “[c]amera or laptop positioning, place books underneath, [or]use a cake plate to prop it up.” “Using a laptop on a desk or table means the camera typically focuses on the chest and angling it up leads to unflattering double chin.”
While often overlooked, lighting can make a significant difference in your appearance. Sikdar recommends investing in a ring light if you are looking for a more professional look for video conferencing. If getting a ring light is not possible, try facing a window off to the side instead of sitting in front of the window.
One last takeaway is that while fun or funny backgrounds can be great for video conferencing with family and friends, they should not be used for court appearances. If possible, Sikar suggests that attorneys avoid personal photographs, windows, or distracting artwork in the background. You can even download a background that makes it look like you are in an office when you may be in a child’s playroom or dining room. The use of professional backgrounds or simply cleaning the space behind you not only removes distractions, but it also makes sure you do not reveal embarrassing personal information or, worse, sensitive client information.
About the Author
Cara A. Murphy is an attorney with Santomassimo Davis LLP in Parsippany, NJ, focusing on complex commercial litigation. Contact Cara at CMurphy@OGCSolutions.com.