Virtual court skills are now part of the ever-increasing demands upon lawyers. Trial courts and appeals courts have engaged in the use of virtual technology to allow judicial proceedings to continue notwithstanding the Coronavirus pandemic raging through the country. Appearing virtually in court presents new and unanticipated challenges to the Bar. Here, the experienced attorneys at Eccleston & Wolf provide some thoughts and suggestions for those involved in virtual court proceedings.
Schedule a Practice Session
Prior to your initial virtual appearance, whether it is for court or a deposition, it is suggested that you schedule a practice session for yourself and those who may be assisting you. If you cannot schedule a practice session with the provider of the service, for example, a deposition court reporter, schedule one with a colleague.
Use the practice session to run through the technology requiring you to “share a screen” as well as presenting exhibits, so that if you are in the position of having to present an exhibit, the technological challenges will be diminished. In other words, you can work the kinks out by practice. Bear in mind that IF you experience any difficulties while ‘on the air’ everything you say will be heard by others unless the microphone is muted, so carefully chose your words if you become frustrated during a virtual appearance.
Be Aware of Your Background and Surroundings
Second, stand in the position of where the camera would be focused on you for the virtual proceeding and take a close look at everything that can be seen. If, for example, confidential materials are visible in the background be it on a desk, shelf, or otherwise, those must be protected because the Rules of Professional Conduct for Maryland lawyers require that you maintain confidentiality; see for example Maryland Rule 19-301.6.
During the course of a lengthy proceeding, or in a deposition, both the witness and opposing counsel will spend a great deal of time looking at you. Unlike a deposition in person or a court proceeding, where one’s attention is not lateral but rather perpendicular, in a virtual proceeding, everyone can see everything because it’s all on the screen directly before the viewer. As such, inappropriate materials on a wall or a shelf may reflect poorly on you. Likewise consider your attire. Wearing a suit jacket and tie, with shorts may present an obstacle that could be avoided if the clerk of the Court announces, “All Rise” as the Judge takes the bench.
Become adept at muting your microphone. As we know from some media experiences, nothing is more embarrassing than being caught on a “live mic.” If, during a break in a proceeding, you want to have confidential communication, leave the room and carefully select a private place where you can speak confidentially. Be careful not to do so in a place where the conversation could be detected whether the mic was muted or not. To like effect, refrain from communicating with witnesses during their testimony via text or email. Conduct yourself virtually, as you would in person.
Keep in Mind What Your Expressions are Saying
Lastly, bear in mind that the Judge, other lawyers, or witnesses, will all be able to observe you all of the time. It is imperative that you not provide any facial expressions that might in any way prejudice the positions for which you are advocating. For example, looking upset at a question from a court, or from opposing counsel, may trigger some signal that the questioned area is one in which your client’s position is not strong.
Seek Legal Assistance with the Maryland Attorneys at Eccleston & Wolf
Eccleston & Wolf has extensive experience defending individuals and companies in the Maryland, D.C. and Virginia areas through a strategic approach, consistent communication and individualized planning. We understand that during this time, court proceedings can be confusing and often overwhelming for many individuals. If you or someone you know is seeking legal assistance, consider utilizing the many resources that our qualified team at Eccleston & Wolf has to offer. To learn how our team can assist you, and to stay up-to-date on news surrounding Maryland court proceedings, contact our office today.