The global Covid-19 pandemic has certainly proven to be an interesting time for lawyers. The pandemic initially all but closed down our courthouses and court proceedings in March 2020. After a few months of being unable to seek the assistance of the court except for the most urgent matters, the court introduced a number of new types of hearings and procedures to allow the justice system to resume some semblance of business as usual. Once the courts started down this path, lawyers were greeted with brand new procedures on almost a daily basis over a number of months. As I sit here in September 2020, we seem to have reached a new equilibrium of sorts with most pre-pandemic court proceedings having been resumed and a number of new proceedings having been introduced. We are now able to provide our clients with a full menu of services and undertake all types of court proceedings that we had available to us prior to the pandemic.
The biggest difference between our law practice in September 2020 and our pre-pandemic practice is that most of our court appearances take place remotely through videoconferencing. We also attend at a full range of mediation and arbitration proceedings with our clients. Some of these proceedings take place remotely through videoconferencing and some take place in person. These choices are usually owing to the client’s personal preferences. We are able to secure mediators and arbitrators who offer both types of services at this time.
Representing clients remotely through videoconferencing is a special skill set that we have had to learn on the fly. Here are our top tips:
- Pay Attention to your Attire:
We always dress professionally wearing the same type of attire that we would wear in a court proceeding. We pay special attention to patterns and colors. Busy patterns are very distracting and can be headache inducing over video or video conference and should be avoided. We stick to solid colors only.
- Think about your Background:
We attended by videoconference only in pristine clean board rooms or other meeting rooms. I will only have one geometrical abstract piece of artwork on the wall behind me. Again, busy patterns should be avoided.
- Think about what Materials you Need and Have Them Ready:
Although we have moved most of our document storage to virtual and digital storage during the pandemic, it is not effective or efficient to click around on your computer to look for materials or documents while you are using the same computer for your videoconferencing. If there are certain important documents or notes you want to reference during your proceeding, have them printed out in paper format on the table with you or think about having alternate monitors to look at those documents.
- Practice and Think about Camera Angles:
It is an acquired skill to look at the correct target on your computer to have the listener think you are looking at them while you are speaking. You can practice to make sure that you are making good eye contact with the screen. This is a very unnatural skill and you need to think about this and practice. Also consider the effect of looking down to read papers and how you can do this most effectively while maintaining eye contact with the listener.
- Make Proper Provisions for Sound, Microphones, and Feedback:
It is beneficial to use headsets, headphones, and standalone microphones to ensure the best sound quality on a videoconference. This is particularly important if you will be making lengthy oral submissions or if you are attending a court proceeding with a number of court cases on the court calendar and a number of videoconference participants. We have observed many problems with sound feedback where there is a speaker playing the proceeding in the same room as a microphone listing into the proceeding. This is to be avoided. You also want to make sure that your listener can hear every word of your important submissions. Bad microphones can cause you to cut out and be incomprehensible. It is my experience that judges will try very hard to get you to repeat yourself or to stop you and tell you that you are not being heard. At a certain point, they can only repeat these comments so many times.
- Quality of Internet Connection:
It goes without saying that you should make sure to have a high-quality internet connection so that you are not disconnected in the middle of your submissions. Most remote hearing technologies also offer a dial-in telephone number. Be sure to have a telephone nearby so that you can dial-in and continue to participate in the worst-case scenario. Be sure to have your telephone on silent so as to not distract from the proceedings if any calls come in while you are on videoconference.
- Consider your Set-up and Environment Carefully:
I have tried various different positions and environments to make video submissions. It is extremely unnatural for me to speak to the court from a seated position. After much experimentation I have found that sitting is a reasonable way to proceed for short submissions or appearances. If I am making lengthy submissions, I like to stand at a podium as though I were in the physical courtroom. To achieve this, we have created a podium in our board room on which I can put my laptop. I can then stand and deliver my submissions in the way that feels natural to me. It is important to remember that even though you are appearing remotely, you are still advocating for your client and submissions should be no less vigorous or impassioned just because they are being heard virtually. Having said that, it is important to slow down the pace of your comments in order to make sure that each word comes through clearly.